100 ‘Positive Changes’ and Transparency Ain’t One

Cecil Clarke, incumbent mayor of the Cape Breton Regional Municipality, kicked off his campaign for re-election at the Cambridge Suites Hotel last Friday with two CBRM employees at his side (see Tom Ayers’ account in the LocalXpress).

In what may be a Nova Scotian first, there were more promises in the mayor’s platform than people in attendance at the launch. Not 50, not 60 but 100 — count ’em — “positive changes” for the CBRM. (I do love that Clarke realizes “change” is not always positive — hiring two “political” staffers without job competitions, for example, was a “change” for the CBRM but not a positive one.)CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke at microphone

Before we consider the 100 new promises, however, I think we need to ask how many of the 95 old promises were kept. And we need to do it with straight faces because elections are serious business so no giggling. Here’s promise #2 from that 2012 classic, “A reorganization plan for positive change”:

“The Cape Breton Regional Municipality will demonstrate transparency and strict reporting in the strategic business of its government.”

Transparency and strict reporting in the strategic business of government are very hard to achieve when your favorite place to do “strategic business” — like hiring port marketers and CEOs — is in camera. Promise not kept.

“The CBRM will be a community that leads, implementing a minimum standard of care philosophy and pursuing opportunities that will advance our region.”

If this means that the CBRM will commit to providing the minimum care possible to its most vulnerable citizens — like the 32.64% of its children living in poverty — then we can call this a promise kept. Perhaps Clarke had this “minimum standard” in mind when he skipped the Cities Reducing Poverty: When Mayors Lead conference in Edmonton this April. (Or maybe he misread the title as “When Mayors Leave.”)

“The CBRM Charter Act”

There were a lot of promises surrounding the CBRM Charter which, if it will not quite allow us to be masters of our own destiny, will at least allow us to lease our port for 99 years. As the legislation was to be presented to the N.S. House of Assembly in 2013-2014, I think this must go into an entirely new promise column, let’s call it “empty.”

“Establish and build communications capacity for both legislative and operational requirements.”

If this means, “hire the former communications director for the Nova Scotia Progressive Conservative caucus at $75,000 a year without a job competition,” then promise kept!

“Make public, through the CBRM website, all copies of reports, studies and information related to major projects such as port development.”

No, seriously, stop laughing. We’re trying to have a reasonable discussion here. There’s no specification that this be done “in a timely manner,” so perhaps making a report public seven months after it has been received (as was the case with the Neil MacNeil port study) constitutes keeping your promise. On the other hand, have any of you seen those port studies by Bechtel and Industream? No, me either. I’m afraid this is another promise for the “empty” column.

And that brings us to the 100 new promises (which you will find here). They read like the mayor ran around the Civic Centre grabbing papers off desks — “Got anything you’re working on? Anything you’re thinking about working on? Anything you’re thinking of thinking of working on? Environmentally friendly crosswalk paint? AWESOME! Give it here, I’ve got a platform to build!”

Public Information Officer: a position working with the CBRM Clerk’s Office, finance officials and corporate communications to produce timely and thorough financial reports for the public. (i.e. expense reports, annual report, debt progress, revenues and expenses, open data portal information, etc).

According to the Cape Breton Post, the Mayor told the audience at his launch that the Public Information Officer would deal with the “vast” number of freedom of information requests coming into the municipal clerk’s office. Presumably, he means head off those requests by providing information voluntarily. But maybe he actually means respond to FOIPOPs, which would be like hiring someone to mop the floor under the leak in your roof.

Transparency and accountability are closely related to simplicity — it’s not the quantity of information you provide, it’s the quality. I’ll leave it to you, dear readers, to decide under which heading: “100 more positive changes for the CBRM” should be filed.