Politics

City Leaks Provide Accountability

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 28, 2008

Live and Don't Learn Dept:

The Hamilton Spectator's ever-intrepid Nicole MacIntyre reports today that Councillor Dave Mitchell, recently censured by Council for allegedly trying to influence a committee decision of a land sale in which he had a financial interest, is complaining about breaches to the city code of ethics.

"Council members or staff seem intent on breaching the code of conduct in order to prove that I broke the code of conduct," Mitchell said.

"It seems to me that we can't hold it up as a governing document on one hand while breaking it right, left and centre on the other hand."

For a council as afraid of its own shadow as this one, leaks to the press seem to be the only way to bring enough pressure to bear to keep them even partially accountable. Would council ever have addressed Mitchell's alleged conflict of interest if Councillor Rob Pasuta's concerns about it were not leaked to the Spectator?

In that spirit, and until we get an ethics commissioner with the latitude to enforce transparency and accountability, I say: keep 'em coming!

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan writes a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. He also maintains a personal website and has been known to post passing thoughts on Twitter @RyanMcGreal. Recently, he took the plunge and finally joined Facebook.

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By Ted Mitchell (registered) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 10:22:42

Nothing that the City of Hamilton does has any ethical justification for happening behind closed doors. There is no international espionage and intrigue, nobody is going to die from making any city details public.

In fact much of our current grief is due to the undemocratic shit that happens in camera.

So when Sir Dave equates breaking breach rules (ethically beneficial) with breaking financial conflict of intest rules (ethically, well, you decide) methinks he has no conscience and is thus a dangerous person.

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By joejoe (anonymous) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 13:06:40

It's not that he doesn't have a concience, he doesn't have any intelligence... :)

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 28, 2008 at 16:18:29

Ted - so true!! haha. who do these guys think they are? Do they have Bin Laden cornered and need to go 'in camera' so they don't spill the beans??

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By transitory (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 06:46:32

Most corporations monitor and archive e-mail traffic, and many monitor IM messages. It doesn't seem outlandish that employees of the corporation of the city would be monitored when using company equipment. I appreciate the value of leaks but the sunshine squad will just have to master payphones.

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By transitory (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 06:49:27

Most corporations monitor and archive e-mail traffic, and many monitor IM messages. It doesn't seem outlandish that employees of the corporation of the city would be monitored when using company equipment. I appreciate the value of leaks but the sunshine squad will just have to master payphones.

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 11:08:22

I thought Big Brother died in 1984!!!!! Evidently, not according to RTH standards.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 12:46:37

1984 was about the sacrifice of personal privacy to protect the interests of the state. We're talking about holding public officials accountable to protect the interests of the citizens. Pretty much the opposite, from what I can tell.

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 14:52:04

1984 is about the abuses of intruding on everyone's lives, including private thoughts or private messages...everyone is entitled to that level of privacy.
Affording our public officials justified privacy in no way excuses bad behaviour. It just draws limits on eavesdropping.
Where do we draw the line if we go down that slippery slope?

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By highwater (registered) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 15:48:26

No, it's about the state intruding on the lives of private citizens. We are talking about the opposite - citizens demanding access to the information discussed in meetings concerning public business, ie. OUR business. No one is demanding access to councillors' personal correspondence. Seems a pretty clear line to me. I suspect it does to you to and you are just being contrarian, so no more troll feeding for me.

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted February 29, 2008 at 16:17:59

Highwater, with respect...the discussion has been about accessing PIN messages which ARE private correspondence among Councillors....you are not feeding trolls, you are avoiding the obvious implications of thought police actions! Re read the book.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2008 at 08:24:24

Baystreeter wrote, "everyone is entitled to that level of privacy."

Absolutely. I would never condone monitoring the personal communications of people who work as city councillors. It would be an appalling breach of privacy to start monitoring their home email addresses or residential phones, for example.

However, when they send emails from workplace communications devices (e.g. their Blackberrys) about workplace related issues (e.g. a councillor violating provincial conflict of interest law), these are public communications governed by the principles of transparency and accountability, unless they have a very good reason to keep them private.

As Ted notes above, "Nothing that the City of Hamilton does has any ethical justification for happening behind closed doors."

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By Baystreeter (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2008 at 09:31:50

Fair point.

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By MediaWatch (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2008 at 15:47:43

Agreed, Ryan. It is a fair point. But how do you know the nature of the blackberry messages? And would you also want Councillor phone converstions taped?
I think Baystreeter gave up too early. The press has the right to pursue information and the public has the right to know, but there is a slippery slope at work here that I am not too quick to endorse.

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