Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners: Political interference and the culture of secrecy

Former Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioner Eleanor Shia’s recent letter to city council was not included in council’s December 18, 2006, meeting agenda.

On December 15, 2006, I contacted the Office of the City Clerk inquiring about public access to Ms. Shia’s letter. I was advised by e-mail that: “The letter was submitted to the Executive Committee, in camera.”

As of now, for the time being anyway, the public is being denied access to Ms. Shia’s letter.

This is ironic given some of Shia’s concerns were about secrecy and lack of transparency.

The StarPhoenix was notified about this latest development. They said they’d “look into it” but nothing further has been reported.

Political interference and the police board's culture of secrecy continues.

Eleanor Shia's letter of resignation from the Saskatoon Board of Police Commissioners was included in the Board's October 19, 2006, public agenda package.

Former city police board member blasts secrecy, political interference
Longtime commissioner says Sabo firing not unanimous

Darren Bernhardt
The StarPhoenix

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Politics and personal feelings, rather than the overall welfare of the city, too often influence decisions made by the board of police commissioners, says a former member.

In a two-page letter sent this week to city council, Eleanor Shia expressed concern over several issues she thinks are hampering the board's ability to function at its best. In addition to political interference, the board suffers from a lack of openness, Shia said in an interview.

Mayor Don Atchison, who chairs the commission, said Shia is entitled to her viewpoints, but he disagrees with them. Board members "have the concerns of all citizens at heart," he said.

Shia served five years with the commission before resigning on Oct. 1. In her resignation letter, she cited "personal reasons," but told The StarPhoenix the board's faulty processes made it difficult and frustrating for her to properly contribute any longer.

Shia said she felt compelled to speak out because of her responsibility to the public.

"I made a commitment to this position and I believe council should know my observations," she said.

Although she described commissioners as "truly committed" to the job, political matters get in the way.

"I felt elected members sometimes represented their wards more than the city as a whole," she said. "I felt external forces, like the media and a volatile public, tried to pressure the board into making hasty or overly political decisions that calmed public outbursts but did little to, if not work entirely against, the well-being of the police service." Elected members of the board are there to serve as liaisons between the police service and the municipal government, not as representatives of their specific wards, she wrote in her letter.

There are many citizens who, "through lack of privilege, education or access, are unable to vote but need our help nonetheless. In fact, it is this latter demographic that the police service spends the majority of its time interacting with," she wrote.

To that end, she believes board members should have limited terms "to ensure fresh voices and opinions." She also believes the ratio of elected members and members at large should be adjusted so nonelected members form the majority.

That would be irresponsible to the public, said Atchison. With a police service operating budget of $43 million, there needs to be elected officials to be held accountable, he said.

Some of his rivals in the recent civic election also touted changes to the board makeup, but Atchison held firm.

The voting public's overwhelming choice to reelect him as mayor is proof they agree, he said.

But Shia noted Toronto's police commission, overseeing Canada's largest municipal police service, is a seven-member civilian board, while Vancouver's consists of six non-elected members and the mayor.

During election time in Saskatoon, certain things can't be discussed to avoid the appearance of campaigning, so issues are set on the back burner until the election is over, Shia said.

"That's not a fair way to govern the police and it's not fair to the public, either," she said.

Shia also encouraged the board to be more transparent.

It has never provided an explanation for dumping former police Chief Russell Sabo. Shia revealed the board was not in full agreement on the matter and she questions the secretiveness.

"When there is dissenting opinion within the board, the public should know about it -- they should even encourage it as an example of democratic process," she said.

"As long as we respect that the majority rules, that's the main thing." "I guess that's where we differ the most," said Atchison.

"We don't talk about votes and we don't discuss human resources issues in public. I'm certainly not going to dissuade her from her opinions, but if you look at the police service right now, there are exciting things happening.

"More officers are going to be on the street in the new year and there is a renewed energy. Things are very positive and that only serves to make sure our citizens are safe."

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006


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