Critics say an attempt by a city council candidate to make public a closed-door transit consultation was a trip down the wrong track.
Former council watchdog and municipal election candidate Jeromy Farkas drew criticism after live-streaming an invitation-only engagement session on the controversial southwest transitway on his Facebook page.
“I felt the public deserved to be at that meeting,” Farkas said of the information session, held Saturday at the Calgary South Delta hotel. “I tried to do something a little bit new and use technology to bring the public into the room, and ask questions on their behalf.”
Last year, Mayor Naheed Nenshi declared public consultations on the 22-kilometre bus rapid transit (BRT) project would cease after accusing opponents of verbally and physically assaulting city staff. The project, which initially came with a $40-million price tag, now could ring in as high as $65 million.
Saturday’s invitation-only meeting included groups both for and against the project, including citizen lobby group Ready to Engage — a vocal opponent of the project.
Farkas said he secured permission from city staff to broadcast the meeting and informed tablemates of his intentions. He said it wasn’t until participants began breaking into discussion groups that he was asked to discontinue the broadcast.
Not everybody shared Farkas’ enthusiasm for making the proceedings public, including attendee Jesse Salus, who said he wasn’t aware of the live broadcast.
“I went to the table he was at because that’s where my first discussion was,” Salus said.
“He may have asked the people sitting there during the introduction, but not once we started moving around the room for the breakout sessions — I can’t speak for his intentions, but he didn’t tell the people at the breakout session that he was doing it.”
Fellow attendee Christopher Doyle shared the sentiment, accusing Farkas of using the meeting to further his political campaign.
“He wasn’t there to help or participate in the process,” he said. “I think it was definitely the wrong way to approach it.”
Farkas dismissed claims he sneaked into the meeting under false pretences, saying he attended as a member of Palliser’s neighbourhood community association.
Backlash prompted Farkas to temporarily take down the video Sunday to remove discussions captured during the breakout session.
Doyle said Farkas reached out and offered a personal apology.
Farkas said his broadcast was justified in light of previous allegations of bad behaviour during the process.
“There were allegations in the past of violence and bullying, but never had the city shared evidence of this,” he said. “People asking questions about the project, they’re not ill-intentioned, and I wanted to document that.”
While Farkas accused facilitators of preventing discussion of contentious issues such as cost and routing, Salus’ impression was more of a focused discussion rather than a deliberate attempt to silence critics.
“Many of those higher-level discussions had already been decided,” he said.
“Now that the city’s narrowing down the final design phase, they’re really looking for input on specific things.”
Farkas maintains he wants the city to be more forthcoming about future input sessions.
“These meetings would be much better off if they were held in public,” he said. “When there’s no information about it, it’s so easy for people on both sides of the issue to cloud what’s being discussed.”
Area Coun. Brian Pincott was not available for comment.