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City Hall Task Force

In Fall 2016, the School of Public Policy and Governance assembled a group of current or former politicians, public servants, academics, journalists, and civic leaders, balancing a range of political perspectives, to form a City Hall Task Force to improve the quality of deliberation and decision making at Toronto City Hall.

The goal of the Task Force was to propose reforms that City Council could act on quickly, without any major legislative or regulatory changes, using powers the City already enjoys.

Members of the Task Force solicited feedback, collated research, balanced important perspectives, and made recommendations to improve City Council’s core decision-making processes and procedures — marking the first general review of Toronto governance in over a decade.

Members of the Task Force:

  • Adrienne Batra, current Editor-in-Chief of the Toronto Sun and former Press Secretary to Mayor Rob Ford
  • Shirley Hoy, former City Manager (2001- 2008)
  • Sevaun Palvetzian, CEO, CivicAction
  • John Parker, former City Councillor (2006-2014) and Deputy Speaker
  • Joe Pennachetti, former City Manager (2008-2015)
  • David Soknacki, former City Councillor (1999-2006) and Budget Chief
  • Zack Taylor, Assistant Professor, Western University
  • Ange Valentini, former Chief of Staff to Councillor Adam Vaughan (2007-2014)
  • Bianca Wylie, Head, Open Data Institute Toronto

Convenors:

  • Gabriel Eidelman, Assistant Professor, School of Public Policy and Governance
  • Brian F. Kelcey, Founder, State of the City Inc.

The following report summarizes the views expressed by Task Force members during four meetings hosted by the School between November 2016 and April 2017, and presents the collective advice and recommendations of the group.

Continue reading below for highlights of the report, including media coverage as well as an executive summary and list of recommendations, or download the full report (PDF) here.

In the News

Executive Summary

In Fall 2016, the University of Toronto’s School of Public Policy and Governance assembled a group of current or former politicians, public servants, academics, journalists, and civic leaders, balancing a range of political perspectives, to form a City Hall Task Force to improve City Council’s core decision-making processes and procedures.

This report summarizes the views expressed by Task Force members during four meetings hosted by the School between November 2016 and April 2017, and presents the collective advice and recommendations of the group. The Task Force’s work marks the first general review of Toronto governance in over a decade.

Overall, the Task Force concluded that there is no need to completely overhaul the system. Rather, what is required is sensible, incremental reform, centred around six key priorities.

1. Set Strategic Priorities
The Mayor plays a lead role setting the Council agenda, but the budget and many city-wide initiatives are often held up by local interests. The City needs a mechanism to encourage strategic, long-term decision making focused on the big picture, not ward-level grandstanding.

2. Monitor the ABCs
Local agencies, boards, corporations, and commissions (ABCs) make up a large and growing share of the city budget. Yet these bodies are not subject to the same level of Council oversight as general city departments. ABCs should be expected — and where warranted, compelled — to be more open, accessible, transparent, participatory, and accountable.

3. Delegate Authority
Too many matters make it to full Council for debate. Final decision-making authority on certain items should be delegated — the most common suggestion, to Community Councils — so that Council can properly debate the most important issues that affect the city as a whole.

4. Streamline Debate
City Council meetings frequently devolve into political theatre, which undermines public confidence. Items are too often amended “on-the-fly” without staff analysis, leading to hasty decisions and wasted time and resources. The rules of debate and voting procedures should be amended to encourage more intelligent deliberation.

5. Engage the Public
The City’s primary mechanisms for public engagement — formal deputations to committee, budget consultations, and public consultations — need to be rethought, with a focus on encouraging proactive participation from a wider group of residents and stakeholders, and better integrating public input into staff reports and Council debates.

6. Share Information
As a matter of transparency and accountability, the City should adopt enhanced information practices in the spirit of “open government.” The City should share more timely and useful data, both among city staff and with members of the public, to improve service delivery and stimulate more informed decision making.

To address these concerns, the Task Force proposed 14 recommendations (summarized in the following section), which reflect two core principles at the heart of the group’s deliberations: that City Council must strive, first and foremost, to act strategically and focus on city-wide problems, and second, behave in a more accountable, transparent, and participatory manner.

City Council can act on these recommendations quickly, without provincial intervention, using powers the City already enjoys. Some reforms will require leadership from the Mayor, others changes to the Municipal Code; the path to implementation varies. But fundamentally, each recommendation is politically realistic, capable of drawing support from a diverse group of Council members.

Summary of Recommendations

Set Strategic Priorities

Recommendation 1: Annual Mayor’s Address
The Mayor should deliver an annual Mayor’s Address to Council in early Spring that lays out his or her strategic priorities and public commitments for the coming year and remaining term of Council.

Recommendation 2: Start of Term Budget Consultations
At the start of every Council term following an election, City staff should conduct large-scale public consultations on the City’s long-term service priorities to confirm Council’s strategic direction for the four-year term.

Recommendation 3: New Budget Sequence
The preliminary budget should be presented to the Mayor and Executive Committee first, then referred to Budget Committee, to ensure consistency between the Mayor’s public priorities, as well as start of term budget consultations, and the final budget presented to Council.

Recommendation 4: Require Financial Offsets
Any motion (or amendment) tabled at Council that generates a financial impact, but does not identify a specific in-year offset, should be automatically referred to Budget Committee in order to ensure that Council decisions are consistent with previously adopted financial plans.

Monitor the ABCs

Recommendation 5: Rolling ABC Review
City staff should conduct an annual, rolling review of local agencies, boards, corporations, and commissions to ensure that each organization’s operations are aligned with the City’s strategic priorities.

Delegate Authority

Recommendation 6: Enhanced Community Councils
Council should delegate further responsibility and decision-making authority to Community Councils so that City Council can focus on city-wide priorities, and direct city staff to identify specific opportunities for delegation that could be in place by the start of the next Council term.

Streamline Debate

Recommendation 7: Staff “Question Period”
Councillors’ questions to staff should be restricted to a single “question period” at the beginning of each Council session.

Recommendation 8: Cap Meeting Times
The length of Council meetings should be capped at 12 total hours per day (including breaks and interruptions).

Recommendation 9: Electronic Submissions
Routine submissions to Council, such as public petitions, requests to hold agenda items, and declarations of conflict should be submitted electronically in advance of Council meetings.

Engage the Public

Recommendation 10: New Deputation Model
Council should create a more welcoming atmosphere for deputations, including increased information for newcomers, dedicated deputation guides, and posted speaking schedules.

Recommendation 11: “Citizen Summaries”
Staff reports should include plain language materials that explain the context and key issues for debate for a general audience.

Share Information

Recommendation 12: Shared Data Strategy
City Council should approve and prioritize a “shared data” strategy concurrent with its Open Data Policy.

Recommendation 13: Office of Data Analytics
The City Manager should create an Office of Data Analytics to pursue pilot projects that demonstrate the benefits of shared data.

Recommendation 14: Synchronized Data Releases
City staff should better synchronize data releases in advance of public consultations or deputations.

 

Download the Report (PDF)