A city hall watchdog group has given Kingston a low grade in their recent report, claiming city council is still not “walking the walk” when it comes to having an open and transparent government.
The Coalition of Kingston Communities, an umbrella organization representing nearly two dozen community groups, has raised a wealth of concerns about the way city councillors and staff conduct their business.
“We all care about the well-being of this city…but it’s fragile. It has various features that could be destroyed if we’re not careful,” said Christine Sypnowich, the chair of the coalition.
The coalition says they have concerns ranging from closed meetings with developers and staff reports that bypass committee input.
The coalition’s concerns are all shown in the 2019 report.
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Overall there is no change from the previous council back in 2017, when the coalition gave the mark of a c-minus. Public engagement and transparency improved from a “D” to a ‘B’ minus, planning matters get a C-plus, unchanged from the group’s last review.
The city’s cultural and natural heritage protection improves slightly in the report to a D-plus.
But in the new category of access to information, the coalition is handing out an “F” based on claims the city is holding back information from the public. “The problem of secrecy is things like secret meetings the council is holding … Controversial development proposals like the homestead towers,” said Sypnowich.
Sypnowich says the city negotiated a “community benefit” from the developer for two apartment towers on Queen Street without public consultation.
However, the mayor defends the need for a closed-door process for the homestead project, noting it was being appealed at the time.
“We have very strict guidelines under which we’re able to discuss things behind closed doors but then we make all the information public,” said Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson.
Despite what the report says, the mayor noted that Kingston has received an international award for public engagement and openness.
“Everyone is entitled to an opinion but a lot of the feedback that we’re getting is very positive,” he said.
The coalition says while it’s encouraged by the new council’s commitment to transparency, it says any positive steps are being marred by lapses and vows to continue holding politicians accountable for their actions.