Last week, the public was privy to a peek inside city administration thanks to an email dump totalling more than 700 messages that landed on Yellowknifer’s lap.
Now, to be clear, councillors are allowed to speak to pretty much whomever they want outside of council chambers, whether Kefalas – or any other city administrator – likes it or not. But to be fair, in return it’s expected that administration knows what council is doing. So, if, as the top bureaucrat at city hall, Kefalas expected council to defend administration’s every action, or only talk to approved people about city business, it’s probably for the best that he stepped down from his role as senior administrative officer last year and returned to the department of public works.
In any functioning democracy, elected leaders serve the public — not the bureaucracy. The City of Yellowknife is no exception.
More than anything, these emails should serve as a teachable moment for council and administration. Hopefully any misconceptions about the way a city government should function will be flushed out in favour of healthy, fair governance. Here, airing the emails provides a service. As is so wisely said, sunlight is the best disinfectant.
That said, private correspondence should stay private. Hypothetically, if these emails had been released in accordance to access to information legislation, the names of private citizens and their contact information would be blacked out so as to not invade their privacy.
In this case, unfortunately, nothing has been redacted.
City hall issued a news release Thursday assuring residents that it was taking steps to keep emails to the city safe. Mayor and city council followed up with another news release Monday acknowledging the discord revealed in the leaked emails while pointing to accomplishments that even a politically divided council can produce, such as tackling downtown social issues and ensuring there is still a visitors centre for visitors to visit.
We hope Mayor Mark Heyck, council and administration work together to back up those reassurances by making sure the public actually is safe to communicate privately with the city.
Last, it’s an interesting coincidence that these messages, dealing with questions of administration and council ethics, come out while the city is in the midst of a code-of-conduct review. Obviously, it would be a shame to see council face a ridiculous muzzle that wouldn’t allow them to speak to whomever they want in the wake of this leak.
In order to be effective leaders, councillors need to be able to speak to whomever they want and advocate for city residents. But of course, administration should stay informed about what they are doing.
As Coun. Linda Bussey said about this issue last week, “People need to communicate and trust more. We both (administration and council) have jobs to do and we should respect each other.”
This is a great last word on the controversies exposed through these leaked emails. It’s important for council and administration to understand their roles and respect each other. This means administration works for council, not the other way around.