Coun­cil trans­parency not al­ways so clear

How min­utes are recorded and pub­lished mainly left to mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties: Old­ford

Nor'wester (Springdale) - - Editorial - BY CORY HURLEY

Trans­parency of coun­cils through­out the prov­ince is not so clear in its in­ter­pre­ta­tion and im­ple­men­ta­tion.

A pe­rusal of some towns’ web­pages does make it clear that the re­port­ing of coun­cil min­utes is more than varied.

Some coun­cils pro­vide de­tailed ex­pla­na­tions of agenda items, dis­cus­sions and de­ci­sions. In this case, a res­i­dent can learn what their coun­cil is do­ing and what is hap­pen­ing through­out their town.

Some­times a lit­tle in­for­ma­tion is re­vealed pub­licly. A cit­i­zen can at least see that things are hap­pen­ing, but of­ten would have to seek out spe­cific de­tails to get the ins and outs of par­tic­u­lar items.

Other towns list lit­tle more than an agenda item ti­tle, stat­ing that the item was for in­for­ma­tion pur­poses, or not­ing whether it was ap­proved or de­nied.

In these cases, res­i­dents are left won­der­ing what ex­actly is hap­pen­ing, some­times lead­ing to ac­cu­sa­tions of things be­ing held from them — the “be­hind­closed-doors” to “some­thing to hide” per­cep­tions.

Un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties Act, coun­cil meet­ing min­utes must be made avail­able for pub­lic view­ing. The pro­to­col is that min­utes from the pre­vi­ous meet­ing will be brought be­fore coun­cil at its next pub­lic meet­ing for ap­proval.

How­ever, there is no clear set of guide­lines or stan­dards as to what must be re­vealed in those min­utes.

Also, it is not re­quired that coun­cils or staff post such min­utes on so­cial me­dia or web­sites, al­though that op­tion is avail­able to them, ac­cord­ing to Karen Old­ford, pres­i­dent of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador (MNL).

“I think most com­mu­ni­ties try to get (min­utes) out there be­cause they want res­i­dents en­gaged – I think ev­ery­body does,” she told the Nor’wester Thurs­day, Oct. 2 at the Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Cor­ner Brook.

“Some com­mu­ni­ties are so small that they can’t af­ford a web­site.”

Craig Pol­lett, MNL’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer, con­firmed the only re­quire­ment for a coun­cil or staff is to en­sure those min­utes are avail­able “dur­ing nor­mal busi­ness hours” upon re­quest fol­low­ing their ap­proval.

A num­ber of doc­u­ments fit within those cri­te­ria, in­clud­ing the adopted min­utes of coun­cil.

As for what is pub­lished in the min­utes, Old­ford said dis­cus­sions around par­tic­u­lar mo­tions do not have to be in­cluded — al­though some­times they are.

She said pro­vid­ing a re­cap of con­ver­sa­tions used to be more com­mon in years past, but un­der Robert’s Rules of Or­der, it is not re­quired.

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