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Mayor McDonald 'disappointed' over Code of Silence award, but has no plans to improve situation

'For the past 10 years, Mayor McDonald has silenced critics and dealt with criticism of the actions of council in an offhand and blasé manner'
20200326 north bay city hall turl
North Bay City Hall. Jeff Turl/BayToday.

North Bay Mayor Al McDonald says he is disappointed about North Bay being named the most secretive municipality in Canada, but apparently has no intention of making an effort to improve the city's reputation.

See: An embarrassing win! North Bay most secretive municipal government in Canada says journalist's group

"While I am not aware of the criteria this group used to label any city as secretive, I am disappointed," McDonald emailed BayToday. "The city of North Bay tries to make information available and accessible to the public as much as possible."

McDonald, who did not agree to be interviewed, points to "holding public meetings, broadcasting and live stream council meetings, posting on our website reports, motions, by-laws, minutes, financial statements, annual reports, policies, upcoming meetings etc."

He says the City "is required to abide by the same laws that all other cities and towns are subject to when it comes to the disclosure of information."

McDonald says the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act means that in some cases certain types of records such as those containing personal privacy of others and lawyer-client privilege must be protected. 

But it appears the mayor is not prepared to do anything that would change the city's status as the most secretive in Canada.

BayToday posed three additional questions to the mayor but received no response.

  • What measures are you prepared to implement going forward to address citizen perceptions about the lack of transparency?
  • What message does this send the business community that may be looking to relocate?
  • Are you prepared to have city staff look into this and report back with suggestions?

Meanwhile, one of the frequent targets of the administration's penchant for secrecy, Don Rennick, says this year’s first-place standing in the Canadian Association of Journalists Code of Silence awards is "proof that if you work hard enough at something you can become the best."

See: City Hall tells citizen activist to go FOI himself

And: McDonald silences Rennick with 'virtual duct tape'

"For the past 10 years, Mayor McDonald has silenced critics and dealt with criticism of the actions of council in an offhand and blasé manner," he told BayToday in response to the Code of Silence award.

"The lawyers hired by the North Bay Hydro group of companies have billed taxpayers an estimated $100 thousand and to this day continue to deny, deflect and try to derail Freedom of Information (FOI) requests for the most basic information which should be available to the owners who are the taxpayers of North Bay. None of these efforts have been successful."

Rennick argues that North Bay Hydro Holdings officials continue to deny details regarding the story used to influence members of city council to purchase Espanola Hydro, and the question remains unanswered after more than a year of trying to get an explanation.

"The lack of transparency on the part of the Mayor and senior officials is depressing and also symptomatic of a deeper malaise. This award was richly deserved and one can only hope that it will be a catalyst for change here in North Bay," said Rennick.

Another vocal critic of the city's lack of transparency, Kevin Ferris, says he's not surprised that North Bay won such a dishonourable award.

"The people of North Bay have been subjected to three successive McDonald regimes that have been obstructing the public disclosure of information that should have been readily available. It took an FOI to force them to disclose what the ticket sales were for Summer in the Park a few years back and even that took 90 days for disclosure.

See: Finally, Summer in the Park stats to be revealed this week

And:  Invest North Bay conducting closed meetings in violation of Municipal Act says Ferris

"I wouldn't be surprised at all if we are repeat winners with the recent antics at the Health Unit and Invest North Bay," says Ferris. "Councillor Mendicino sure is fighting hard with his opinion shopping escapade to keep Invest North Bay activities hidden behind closed doors even though they are 100 per cent funded by the people of North Bay.
"Congratulations to city hall.  Mayor McDonald is always striving to put us on a map.  Mission accomplished...just for all the wrong reasons!"

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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