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Published on Thursday, December 11, 2003

Local editor charges election cover-up

Cites interception of clerk's emailed warning to Council

Oakville Today Editorial

That things didn't go perfectly on election night should be a surprise to no one. Elections are, as Oakville's assistant clerk Dwight Turner has said, big, messy affairs that are difficult to manage perfectly.

Machines break down. Some of the people hired to work at the polls are bound to make a mistake or two. Somehow not every ballot gets returned on election night. Things happen.

That is not so troubling. What's troubling in this case is that Oakville had an incredibly tight race for mayor, it appears Town staff were aware that some problems may have occurred -- and no one suggested there should be a recount. No one except Turner (here) that is and, according to him, he was shut out and shut down. When trying to address his concerns through his chain of command didn't work, he felt strongly enough about the issues that he tried to bring them to the attention of councillors.

Does anyone find it troubling that his email to the mayor and councillors was deleted? During the brief public portion of Friday's council meeting, Councillor Fred Oliver alluded to the fact that one had slipped past the censors. If that one hadn't got out, would councillors have ever been informed about of the the alleged irregularities? Would they ever have been given the information they needed to decide whether they should call for a recount?

Even if staff were confident that all the concerns Turner brought forward were without merit, why wouldn't they take them to council and let council decide, as they are entitled to by the Municipal Act, whether or not to call for a recount.

Town staff certainly don't seem pleased about the information leaking out. Why else is Dwight Turner spending the week at home?

The focus, folks, is all wrong here. It shouldn't be on who leaked information to whom, it should be who withheld information from whom.

Who is running this Town anyway, unelected staff or elected Town councillors?

Town Councillors should be privy to the kind of information Turner was trying to get to them. And the public should be able to understand the process behind council decision-making.

Information, it seems, is being guarded ever more jealously at Town Hall.

Too many council discussions are being held, and decisions are being made, in camera, away from public scrutiny, leaving citizens in the dark about the workings of their government.

The Town's communications policies also have changed recently. We, as members of the local press, are no longer allowed to call Town staff to get ANY type of information no matter how banal,. Every request must be filtered through communications staff. Our ability to get timely and accurate information has been severely hampered and several attempts to address the situation have so far been unsuccessful.

It's all one big game of dodge and hide. Staff withholds information from the council, council, on advice from staff, withholds information from the public and the public loses whatever tattered faith they have in the ability of government, even on the local and supposedly most accessible level, to serve the people.

Want to know why only 27 percent of Oakville's citizens showed up at the polls? Think about the exercise in pointlesssness that was the OPA 198 Open Space Taskforce. Think of the unaddressed complaints about the treatment of the Parks and Rec Citizen Advisory Committee. Think about the in-camera deal made on the Richview lands. Think about the closed-door session last Friday that ended, not as many of the citizens assembled in council chambers had hoped with a request for staff to begin a recount, but with the councillors asking staff to prepare a report. Maybe our elected officials had an excellent reason for leaving the business of town hall to an unelected member of the judiciary but we will never know what it is. Mum is forever the word about their two-hour discussion.

The time has come to unshutter the windows at Town Hall and let some light in. Let's stop shooting the messenger. Let's be forthright. Let's have the workings of government be as transparent as possible.

People are tired of being left, ignored, in the dark. What will it take to drive home that point?

Maybe when they hold an election and no one shows up...
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