As someone who has been involved in this exercise, I was concerned to witness the recent ‘restructuring’ which saw Kings 2050’s primary architect, former director of planning Ben Sivak, effectively demoted; not long after, Sivak resigned.
In dealing with the particulars of municipal planning, Sivak and I didn’t always agree; I am certain there were times that my questions, challenges and actions made his job more difficult. But I developed a great deal of respect for Sivak. In my experience, Sivak worked diligently to temper the often disjointed directives of his political masters with a personal sense of integrity, professionalism, good process and fairness. I often ended up defending him to disgruntled citizens, developers and politicians because I felt his root motivation was the same as my own: finding a fair, coherent and sustainable path forward for our community.
After watching Sivak invest several years of his career in leading his planning staff, and his community, through this ambitious Kings 2050 planning process — an exercise the scope of which is surely uncommon in planner’s career — it seems unfathomable to me that Sivak would have simply quit when the completion of this important project was within reach. His departure, therefore, raises a number of questions.
To what extent did the dysfunctional political and administrative environment at the Municipality of Kings provoke Sivak’s exit? Developing and managing a coherent municipal planning strategy is difficult at the best of times, but it must be nearly impossible in a fractious political environment like the Municipality of Kings, where the warden and the group of councillors who aid and abet her often anti-democratic behaviour seem more interested in extending their own personal influence than working toward some greater vision for the community ─ a vision based on transparency, co-operation and altruism. Having watched this council closely, it seems probable Sivak’s demotion and subsequent resignation are directly related to the ongoing consolidation of power in the offices of the warden and the chief administrative officer. Under Sivak’s leadership, the planning department seemed frequently at odds with those who control council, and it is possible that the regulatory framework that Sivak and his staff envisioned for Kings 2050 — a framework based on their professional expertise and the community’s extensive feedback — did not coalesce with the free-wheeling, back-room politics approach to development that our warden and her supporting councillors seem to prefer.
Who will complete the work on Kings 2050 now? When the resulting planning strategy comes to council, will it reflect the careful work of Sivak, his staff and the many citizens they engaged with, or will it instead serve a more limited political agenda determined by those in power? Will it be publicly debated by council, with those who support it fully articulating their reasons? Will councillors bother to read it and discuss it in detail with their constituents, or will they suppress discussion and rush it through the chambers in a single omnibus vote? Does any planner at the county, having witnessed Sivak’s treatment, feel they can speak freely without fear of reprisal as the document is finalized, properly fulfilling their professional obligations to serve the best interests of the people of the County of Kings?
Government should be about the things that we can do better together than we can do alone, but we are allowing many of our representatives to make government about themselves—their personal influence and power. In the coming weeks, as the nature of this new regulatory framework comes to light, it is important that citizens and municipal staff engage and assert themselves, reminding our representatives of the root objective of this enterprise—the wellbeing of all citizens.