In what appears to be one of the most scandalous and criminal issues to come from Calgary City Hall in years we have a response from Mayor Naheed Nenshi that is as scandalous as the issue itself; Nenshi has told council members to shut up in hopes that it goes away.
Rather than express outrage, rather than call for further inquiry, rather than at least express remorse over the issue, Naheed Nenshi has chosen to send an email to the other members of city council advising them not to speak to the public about this issue.
A woman while employed by the City of Calgary had been sexually assaulted repeatedly by her supervisor so many times that an arbitrator has ruled that she should be compensated $800,000 (not that any dollar amount can fix this). It appears that her attempts to end the assaults were ignored and possibly even covered up by her superiors. A tremendous hole in city procedure has been exposed here at the least. We should not be quietly wondering how this happened, we should be screaming and demanding to find out how this outrage happened and ensuring that this can never happen again! Instead of such strong demands, Calgary’s Mayor’s first response has been to try and get people to stop talking about it.
While hysterics and witch-hunts are not what we need in response to this issue, at the very least we need some open and frank discussion on this and we need it right now, not later. Deferral is a specialty of city hall and we can’t let that happen on something this important. The first step in trying to indefinitely defer an issue is to try and get people to stop talking about it. Nenshi knows this quite well.
Does Naheed Nenshi understand that it is a culture of gagging people on these issues that allows this to happen? Telling others to shut up is exactly what happened to facilitate the ongoing horror that this poor woman endured and it appears that Nenshi’s first instinct is to try to quietly cover up the issue rather than shine a large public spotlight upon it to expose the ugliness. This is an even bigger issue than the overpopulation of white people in city hall that Nenshi described his dislike of.
As with any problem that people get squeamish to address (such as addiction for example), the hardest but most important part is to admit that there is a problem in the first place. No more silence, no more excuses, no studies or committees are required here. That this incident happened repeatedly and over such a period demonstrates without question that there is a major problem in the management of City Hall. It is time to spread the cleansing light of true transparency (that buzz word that Nenshi pays lip service to but hasn’t followed through on) upon City Hall’s procedures and practices for sexual harassment. Most large administrations ironed this sort of thing out fairly well in the 1980s but clearly Calgary needs more work here. We need to open things up to see where the rot is but in order to do so we need leadership that is ready to speak to the issue to the public rather than hide it as Nenshi did with his request to city council members stating: “I would very strongly suggest not speaking to the media,”
In municipal politics, we have no official opposition that helps ensure responsibility on the part of government management. We in the public rely upon the media to at least report on issues so we can see a snapshot of what is going on in there. To suggest that our elected officials refuse to speak to the media (public) on such a critical issues is nothing less than abhorrent.
Having stepped into it on this issue, I am sure that Nenshi will be returning from Switzerland with a prepared statement full of flowery terms speaking of changing the “culture” of city hall in the pursuit of more “inclusiveness” and “vibrancy” and such. I am sure that part of Nenshi’s attempt to silence councilors on this issue was to ensure that they didn’t dare take a leadership role and address the issue before Nenshi himself could climb to the pulpit and tell us all why and how he will make it all better.
There is more to leadership than tweeting witty quips and hamming for cameras at every ribbon-cutting and festival in the city. Sometimes a leader has to take on some tough issues and they have to do it publicly and openly.
We have seen the first instinct from Nenshi on this critical issue and his instinct was to try and hush people up. That in itself is very telling and the sensitive and carefully crafted words that are sure to come from him soon on the issue will be ringing rather hollow in light of his initial response.