A commitment to transparency

In early 2015, Edmonton’s City Council adopted the Open City Policy, an important document that articulates the City of Edmonton’s commitment “to bring to action the Open City principles of transparency, participation, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation.”

Yet policies don’t implement themselves, and that’s often where the heavy lifting needs to be done. For an organization as large as the City of Edmonton (with 14,000+ employees) it’s clear that writing a set of principles is a very different challenge than applying them to everyday work. Truly becoming “open by default” requires persistence. A little public pressure doesn’t hurt, either!

Edmonton Journal columnist Elise Stolte has demonstrated again and again her commitment to this work. Most recently, she shared a “win” involving the construction of the Valley Line LRT. Stolte asked the City for the non-conformance reports it files to track TransEd’s performance, but the City refused to provide them. She appealed to the City’s freedom of information co-ordinators and was again rebuffed. So she appealed to the provincial commissioner, who determined Stolte is right and the City should release the reports.

Unfortunately, she still doesn’t have the reports. Facing a leave of absence that will take her out of the city, Stolte concludes that “transparency cannot depend on individual journalists, especially now that newsrooms are smaller, and it can’t depend on this formal, legal structure with deadlines, extensions and co-ordinators.”

Stolte concludes:

“A city that shares information freely is admitting it will never have everything perfect. When it shares, it’s inviting the rest of the community to come along. It’s an act of humility that builds bridges.”

Stolte’s persistent effort on behalf of Edmontonians is incredibly important work. Others deserve recognition here as well, such as CBC Edmonton’s Janice Johnston who led the effort to have Edmonton police share the names of homicide victims.

We’re doing our part too. While live-tweeting Executive Committee on Monday, it became clear that councillors were going to move an important discussion about role clarity in Edmonton’s innovation sector to the November shareholder meeting, which is private. I tweeted my dissent to a few members of the committee.

The next day, Councillor Andrew Knack and Mayor Don Iveson agreed the discussion should be public.

On Wednesday afternoon, Councillor Knack filed the following notice of motion:

“That EEDC work with TEC Edmonton, Health City, and other stakeholders and report back on the status of the recommendations in the YEG Innovation Compass Report. This report should specifically address opportunities to reduce overlap, clarify roles and governance, accelerate the technology economy, and better serve the municipal innovation ecosystem.”

Assuming his motion is carried at next week’s council meeting, a report will come back providing the public with more information and importantly, another opportunity to participate in the discussion.

I know I wasn’t the only one who reached out to members of council to let them know how important it is that this discussion be held publicly. And that’s the point. It’ll take the persistent effort of all of us to ensure that the City of Edmonton and City Council adhere to the principles of transparency they’ve articulated. We’ll keep at it.