Monday, December 25, 2006

Saskatoon City Council rejects proper process, refuses to hold administration accountable; fears accessibility committee

“I stand for a responsible, accountable city government that will work in partnership with the community.”
(Don Atchison, 2003 mayoralty campaign brochure)

Not once, but twice City of Saskatoon administrators failed to comply with a directive it was given by the Planning and Operations Committee, a standing committee comprised of five city councillors. No one has yet been held accountable.

In October 2005, the City of Saskatoon’s Access Transit Advisory Committee (ATAC) identified a need for an Accessibility Committee to deal with accessibility issues in Saskatoon other than transit. In their report to the Executive Committee of City Council dated October 17, 2005, ATAC indicated that “there are many areas in the community that continue to fall short of enabling persons requiring access accommodations to have equitable opportunities to participate in the community.” The committee recommended that an Accessibility Committee be established, with a mandate as determined by City Council.

Many cities across Canada have established a committee that advises on accessibility issues. They include: Whitehorse, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Winnipeg, Sault Ste. Marie, London, Windsor, Hamilton, Toronto, Ottawa, Kingston, Halifax and St. John’s.

If implemented, the Accessibility Committee would be a major step toward addressing the needs of Saskatoon citizens with disabilities on all issues.

At its November 7, 2005, meeting the Executive Committee referred the matter of the Accessibility Committee to the Planning and Operations Committee.

On November 22, 2005, the Planning and Operations Committee referred the matter to the Administration for “a report on what the Terms of Reference for an Accessibility Committee could look like.”

The Administration did not comply with the directive.

At the June 20, 2006, Planning and Operations Committee meeting, rather than provide the committee with what it had asked for, the corporate services general manager instead tabled a report, dated June 5, 2006, detailing the current activities and expenditures undertaken by the City to increase access. It was similar to a September 10, 2001, report on the same issue that Administration had submitted to the Executive Committee.

Administration justified its actions saying:

“Accessibility issues are being dealt with both through planning and on a complaint basis. Based on this, your Administration has not identified terms of reference for an Accessibility Committee. However, a communication strategy may be required to ensure the public is aware of the process for bringing forward accessibility concerns. The City has a limited scope of responsibility for accessibility issues and believes it would be more appropriate for a provincial body to be established to provide an advocacy role.”

Ms. Sandy Preston, Chair of the Access Transit Advisory Committee, advised the committee that Administration had not complied with the directive it was given on November 22, 2005.

The committee agreed and resolved – for a second time:

“That the matter be referred back to the Administration for a report on what the terms of reference for an Accessibility Committee could look like.”

The report was never tabled. In fact, it appears Administration had no intention of preparing one.

According to the Office of the City Clerk: “The (Planning and Operations) Committee is responsible for policy advice and overall supervision of all land use, leisure services, protective services, infrastructure and utility services as well as overall supervision of various civic departments including Fire and Protective Services, Community Services, Utility Services and Infrastructure Services.”

The City would soon circumvent the committee and reject its own proper process.

The agenda for the November 28, 2006, Planning and Operations Committee meeting included a list of outstanding matters currently before the committee. Page eight shows that the issue of the Accessibility Committee was removed from the committee’s responsibility and given to the Executive Committee. The city manager would submit a report. No explanation for the change was given.

The Executive Committee, which is chaired by the mayor, conducted a closed-door meeting on November 27, 2006. The purpose, in part, was to make appointments to the various civic boards and committees. It was at this meeting that City Council dealt with the matter of the Accessibility Committee.

On December 18, 2006, City Council received a report from the Executive Committee, essentially itself. Item #1 – Proposed Accessibility Committee states:

“Your committee is satisfied that accessibility issues are being dealt with appropriately both through planning and on a complaint basis, and does not support the establishment of an Accessibility Committee.”

With those words Council supported and endorsed its Administration's conduct. Council clearly had no interest in holding anyone accountable for this travesty – including itself.

Speaking on behalf of the Access Transit Advisory Committee, Chairperson Sandy Preston asked Council: “When Executive Committee passes on a resolution to Planning and Operations and Planning & Operations gives directive to Administration and Administration doesn't comply with the resolution not just once but twice, whose responsibility is it?

There was no response. Not one member of City Council or Administration had the courage to stand and address the question. It was a disgrace and an insult to its advisory committee.

In the end, Council resolved “That consideration of the (Accessibility Committee) be deferred until after the Corporate Accessibility Project (Capital Project 1963) has been completed.”

The matter of Capital Project 1963 (Corporate Accessibility Policy) is not scheduled to be dealt with until Spring 2007 when the City finalizes its 2007 Capital Budget. There is no guarantee that the $75,000 required to undertake the project will be approved.

November 7, 2005, resolution by the Executive Committee referring the matter of the Accessibility Committee to the Planning and Operations Committee.

November 22, 2005, resolution by the Planning and Operations Committee directing Administration to report on what the Terms of Reference for an Accessibility Committee could look like.

June 20, 2006, resolution by the Planning and Operations Committee directing Administration a second time for a report on what the Terms of Reference for an Accessibility Committee could look like.

November 28, 2006, Planning and Operations Committee agenda item showing the matter of the Accessibility Committee being moved to the Executive Committee.

December 18, 2006, City Council agenda item showing the Executive Committee's support of its Administration and the non-support of establishing an Accessibility Committee. The committee's decision took place at a closed-door meeting on November 27, 2006.


Accessibility committee needed, city told

Darren Bernhardt
The StarPhoenix

Friday, December 22, 2006

The City of Saskatoon claims to shine, but citizens with disabilities have been relegated to the shadows, says an organization representing the rights of the physically challenged.

The North Saskatchewan Independent Living Centre (NSILC) has been lobbying the city to create an accessibility committee to consult with those who live with mobility issues and face barriers other people may not notice.

The committee would then report to administration so the issues are raised with council and "we would finally have a voice within the city," NSILC executive director Georgie Davis said at press conference calling for action from the city.

No one from the city or mayor's office could be reached for comment on Thursday afternoon.

Simply getting through doorways or crossing the street are often major obstacles for the disabled, Davis has repeatedly stated. Wheelchairs are forced to cut dangerously through traffic to find a low curb or alley access to get on or off the sidewalk. The sidewalk is not practical if snow hasn't been removed and many buildings still have stairs with no ramp access.

In October 2005, the Access Transit Advisory Committee (ATAC) first identified the need for an accessibility committee and reported that to city council's executive committee. The mandate of ATAC is transportation issues, but the committee members saw the need to address the gap that exists in other areas.

The issue was shuffled around various city committees before landing on the desk of administration to report on the terms of reference that would define such a committee's functions and makeup.

Nothing happened.

In June 2006, the issue was raised again and sent through another series of committees before going back to administration one more time. Earlier this month, council decided to include a Corporate Accessibility Project (CAP) in the draft budget for funding consideration.

The CAP would study the issue, consult with stakeholders and develop an outline of the city's role, but it says nothing of a specific accessibility committee, NSILC noted.

Davis is worried the formation of committee will be pushed back a number of years. She is urging the city to revisit the issue in January.

Her concerns have been backed by letters of support from the Saskatchewan Association for Community Living, Saskatchewan Abilities Council, Saskatchewan Association for the Rehabilitation of the Brain Injured, Saskatchewan Association of Rehabilitation Centres, Canadian Paraplegic Association (Saskatchewan) and Saskatchewan Voice of People with Disabilities.

"This city should shine for everyone," Davis said.

©The StarPhoenix (Saskatoon) 2006


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