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Recently, Maytree’s Alejandra Bravo spoke on CBC’s Metro Morning about citizen involvement on city boards in view of the changes to the board of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC).
Here’s a summary of her comments, followed by a link to the recording.
How much impact can citizen board members have?
Citizen members can have have a real impact on a board, and bring value, as long as they’re committed to a few things. Number one is good governance, the organization’s mission, making decisions based on evidence and facts, and putting the public’s interest above anything else.
So when we look at what their role will be … [it] isn’t really to manage the organization, but to provide that policy oversight and make sure that public dollars are being well spent, and that they’re advancing policy that outlasts Mel Lastman, David Miller and Rob Ford.
How important is it that citizen members have a sense of business?
The question about business sense is really important, because there can’t be a real or perceived sense of bias or self interest. Transit, and being associated with transit, if there’s a citizen member, can’t be seen as an advantage in any kind of profit-making opportunity. That’s an important thing to separate.
And, secondly, business experience can add value.
But I think that there are other things in the qualifications that are really important. For example, land use planning – we’re planning communities of the future. Immigrant settlement patterns, understanding of employment, housing, and even poverty are really important perspectives to bring to the table.
And, finally, in an era where we’re committed to improving service for the customer, what about the perspective of the actual users of the system, the TTC riders?
Can you have a good working relationship between citizens and politicians?
Politicians have a policy-making role, on the one hand, for the whole city, but they also have a representative role… [in] the ward where they get elected…. [S]ometimes that trumps good decision-making, sometimes not. On the Board of Health, it was very simple for citizen members. The organizational mission is to reduce health inequalities, so we just had to look at every decision … through that lens and making sure that we were serving the organizational mission….
And that’s what staff can provide. We were there to ask questions, to make sure that we’re actually consistent with the directives that we set before. We had a strategic plan.
The TTC is going to be starting a new strategic plan in 2012, and I think that we have to make sure that, when we talk about directors, that they’re not involved in the everyday operations of things. That’s what management’s for. But they’re actually looking through a bird’s eye view at the bigger picture.