Timmins councillor facing backlash amidst calls for budget transparency
Attempts from Timmins city councillor Joe Campbell to make a more transparent budget process are not sitting well with his council counterparts.
Campbell made a presentation at Tuesday's council meeting laying out his case for more public access and input, as well as calling on his fellow councillors to have a debate on the issue.
He told city council that too much of the current budget process takes place behind closed doors and what is presented publicly is too simplistic.
"I'm not suggesting the budgets coming to council are incorrect," Campbell told CTV in an interview. "But there still is that position that the public must know what is being presented and you can't do that with a one-line entry."
Calling situation 'undemocratic'
Campbell also told the council to not let "partisanship and loyalty stand in the way of legislation."
His presentation was met with criticism from fellow councillor Andrew Marks and Mayor George Pirie shutting down Campbell's attempt to reply.
Campbell previously tried to formally change the budget process earlier this month, but his motion does on the floor and was refused further discussion. He is calling the situation undemocratic.
Marks told CTV he was offended by what he took as an accusation that councillors like himself cannot plan a budget properly.
"When someone says you're not being accountable, when someone says you're not being transparent, it hits hard when someone has dedicated themselves for close to 20 years in being a councillor," Marks said.
"So I was upset and I was frustrated."
Things change, councillor says
Marks said in his years working with several city treasurers, he said budget processes can change, but that the current system is effective and open for public scrutiny.
He said councillors have access to dozens of pages of fully-detailed budget documents that they can read through and highlight items that need further public discussion — and that residents can access those documents if asked.
The current process went into effect in 2017 and it appears it was an attempt to shorten the time needed to pass a budget.
Campbell said years previous would have each city department present its detailed, costed budget requests in public meetings.
He would like to go back to that model, adding that other municipalities in the northeast currently approve their budgets this way.
"I still don't think the public is engaged enough," Campbell said.
"If you engage the public, then you earn their trust ... and eight other people (councillors) don't say why they won't support it. I don't think that's democracy."
'Open to everyone'
In Marks' view, Campbell is focusing too much on the past and that the goal should be moving forward under the current budget model.
Marks maintains that people will always have access to any city information upon request and can always discuss concerns with their councillors.
"When we come together to review a budget process, it absolutely is open to everyone," Marks said.
Mayor George Pirie's office declined multiple requests for comment on the matter.