Monday 16 January 2012

How to Follow the Budget Meeting

At the first City Council meeting of 1911, they got by without Twitter. 
So you want to follow the wild world to Toronto City Council but don't know where to start? Or you just want all of your links in one place? Then this is the post for you. 

How City Hall Works (or doesn't):
For starters, you might want to check out this post (an excerpt from Local Motion) that Dave Meslin wrote about how city council ideally works. He also wrote an updated, more cynical version which I would say is slightly more accurate (in practice, not in theory). 

The Meeting:
You'll also want to follow along with the meeting. Each City Council meeting is broadcast on Rogers 10 in its entirety, so if you're in front of a TV that can work. If you are computer-bound you can follow along on the Rogers livestream

When you're in front of your computer, you also have the meeting agenda at hand, which is very useful. 

Added bonus is that they archive previous council meetings on the Rogers site and you can follow Twitter too. 

Which brings us to the next area. Follow Twitter. This really isn't an option for following along with City Council; it's a must. The best bets are to follow the #topoli hashtag and various Twitter lists like this one from Goldsbie. Note: If you're looking for a pro-Ford cheering section, there's limited selection on Twitter. 

Of course, all of this coverage doesn't mean too much if you don't understand the context. A good starting point is to check out where various councillors stand on the issues with Matt Elliott's Ford Scorecard. This will give you a general idea of where councillors stand on the issues although some are specific (Crawford supports the arts or Thompson the Christmas Bureau, for instance). 

Of particular importance will be this Ford Scorecard from September, when Council had many votes in principle of what to cut. It should provide a good guidepost of who the councillors to watch on specific issues are.

Hard Numbers: 
Of course, if you want to do the budget number crunching for yourself, you have a few options. You can check out the Toronto Opendata website, which posts the Operating and Capital budget as well as lots of other useful stats and documents (warning: big Excel files). 

There's also the official city site, the most valuable of which is the analyst notes. This should allow you to follow issue by issue. 

Contact Info:
City Hall watcher (and former Rocco Rossi campaign staffer) Justin Kozuch has also put together a really useful spreadsheet of contact info for various councillors and trustees (e-mail, twitter, facebook, youtube etc...). So when that one councillor makes a really offensive or stupid statement, you'll be ready to ping their Blackberry to let him or her know it was an offensive or stupid statement. 

Media Outlets:
The best media coverage of City Hall tends to come online, and I expect these next three days to be no different. With big events like this, sometimes Torontoist does a liveblog and they do a good job. I expect Openfile's John McGrath will be updating their site with frequent posts on the goings-on and I'm sure other outlets will have special coverage, so watch out for that. 

If you're there in person you should know that Council Chambers will have wifi available for the first time (the committee room has for the new year). There will be a sign posted near the entrance with the user/password and make sure to take advantage of it. There's only a handful of plugs to charge your phone or laptop in when the battery goes kaput, but you can find them beneath the first row of the audience risers (on the outside, near the floor). 

Also, make sure to use jazz hands. If you don't then Frances Nunziata will be so stressed she'll need to take a smoke break. 

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