Council transparency not always so clear
How minutes are recorded and published mainly left to municipalities: Oldford
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.