In the Name of Restoring Public Trust, the Appointment of Niagara’s New Regional Chair should be carried out completely in the open

 “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” – the recently adopted motto of The Washington Post 

Let the sun shine in!

“Government ought to be all outside and no inside. . . . Everybody knows that corruption thrives in secret places, and avoids public places, and we believe it a fair presumption that secrecy means impropriety.” – from an address by late American president Woodrow Wilson

A Commentary by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher  Doug Draper

Posted December 3rd, 2018 on Niagara At Large

Every new group of regional councillors,  going back almost 50 years now to the creation of regional government in Niagara, has started their term of office with a list of goals in mind.

The group of regional councillors to be sworn in this December 6th faces at least one goal that is so huge, it supersedes virtually anything else on the list.

Waiting for Niagara’s newly sworn in regional council. At least for some Niagara residents, this December 6th’s inauguration ceremonies could not come soon enough. Photo by Doug Draper

That goal is restoring the trust of the public in regional government.

Can it be done?

There is one old school of thought that once you lose people’s trust it is very difficult or nearly impossible to win it back. I don’t think that is true in this case.

The now departed regional council chaired by Al Caslin managed to set the bar so low when it came to openness and accountability, and the way it conducted business (all too often on electronic devices or behind closed doors) and in the way it behaved toward its own members and toward delegations of people who came before it with ideas or concerns, that it would be relatively easy for members of the new council to turn all that around and behave in ways that set a refreshing new tone if they have the will too.

And one of the first opportunities the new council has to send out a clear message to all of us that things are going to change for the better comes right after they are sworn in this December 6th when they appoint from among their members, Niagara’s new regional chair.

They can do so by agreeing that for the first time in the Region’s almost 50-year history, the entire proceedings for choosing a new chair, right up to and including the voting, will be completely open to the public.

No back-room bartering for votes for the chair’s job. No voting behind closed doors.

If we could have less of this, it is also quite likely that there will be fewer leaks and less of a need for whistleblowers. Let’s give it a try and see.

Make a promise to keep the whole process, from the moment candidates for the position throw their hats in the ring, to the cases each candidate makes to council members for why they would be the best person to be awarded this important role, to the voting, out in the open for all to see.

And make a pledge, right from the start of the process, to proceed according to a bylaw members of a previous council wisely passed in 2013 – to limit the pool of candidates vying for the chair’s position to those individuals who ran in the last municipal election and received enough support from the voters to win a seat on the council.

Any interloper who did not see fit to place their names out there for a seat on the council and may now try coming in from the outside for reasons Niagara residents may never fully know, need not apply for this most important political post in our region.

Choosing a new regional chair from among those who earned the support of voters for a seat on the council may be as close as we can now come to making up for the fact that Niagara residents have so far been deprived of an opportunity residents in so many other regions across Ontario have had for decades – to elect their chair at large.

So here is hoping that this December 6th, marks the beginning of better days ahead for regional governance in Niagara.

After all of the dark moments and backroom dealings the people of Niagara suffered through over the past four years at the regional level, it is time to open the doors and let the light in.

As William O. Douglas, one of the most storied U.S. Supreme Court Justices of the 20th century once put it; “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

(The inaugural ceremonies for Niagara’s new regional council, followed by the appointment of the Region’s new chair, get underway at the Niagara Regional Headquarters off Merrittville Highway and Schmon Parkway in Thorold at 10 a.m. this Thursday, December 6th.

Later in the day, at 4 p.m., the newly appointed regional chair will deliver his or her inaugural address to the council and people of Niagara)

NIAGARA AT LARGE encourages you to join the conversation by sharing your views on this post in the space following the Bernie Sanders quote below.

A reminder that we only post comments by individuals who also share their first and last names.

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 “A politician thinks of the next election. A leader thinks of the next generation.” – Bernie Sanders

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