Author: A.Furtado, Citizen Journalist
In the October issue, Saanich Voice Online explored the topic of Central Saanich Council no longer recording their votes in the Minutes. As a result, these changes provided an opportunity for Council to make decisions, while the public record offered little accountability to voters. This was not the first example, however, of where democracy and transparency in Central Saanich headed down a slippery slope.
-Sept 2007 Former Councillor Bob Thompson drafts Motion to allow the District Administrator (in consultation with the Mayor) to deem what correspondence from the community is “appropriate” for presentation at a Council Meeting.
-Sept 2007 Former Councillor Thompson drafts Motion to move all ‘late items’ of correspondence from the community, to the following council meeting two weeks later. The deadline for correspondence is now two days before the agenda is released to the public.
-Sept 2007 Councillor John Garrison drafts a Motion to place all ‘late items’ of correspondence from the community at the end of the agenda in “General Information” section, where they are not allowed to be discussed at the council meeting (two weeks later), once council has made their decision.
-Dec 2008 Mayor Jack Mar drafts and Councillor John Garrison moves a series Motions to:
-Remove the names of the Movers and Seconders from the Minutes.
-Eliminate any transcript of comments or debate (without prior approval) from the Minutes.
-Give the chair the authority to put “time limits” on agenda items.
-Jan 2011 Councillor Alastair Bryson drafts Motion to ban recording devices (without specific approval) at the Advisory Planning Committee Meetings – a public meeting in a public building. Council unanimously supports this ban, including Bob Thompson, Chair of the Advisory Planning Committee.
-March 2011 A Channel News reports that they were “thrown off the property” when trying to enter the Central Saanich Municipal Hall. A Channel News also reports they were told that “cameras were not allowed in this public building.” Mayor Mar confirms report, by stating it was a “municipal decision.”
-June 2011 Councillor Ron Kubek drafts a Motion to create ‘Media Relations Policy’, which bans most District staff from speaking to the media and Councillors from speaking to media on behalf of Council. All inquiries must now be directed to the Mayor. The Media Relations Policy is unanimously supported by Council.
While some municipalities are tightening up their rules of engagement, other municipalities, such as North Saanich, are making things easier for the public to be involved. North Saanich Council gives all residents an opportunity to speak at their Council Meetings, regardless of whether their correspondence is late. North Saanich not only accurately record their Minutes, they also have recently started to webcast their council meetings. Their council meetings are available on the District’s website, the day following their meeting.
North Saanich Mayor Allison Finall states, “I have always aimed for transparency and openness in municipal government. This (webcast) does give the people the opportunity to watch their council in action without having to attend the meeting and I see this as a benefit to the community and the council.”
At the May 25th, 2011 Town Hall Meeting, Central Saanich Councillor Terry Siklenka stated, “(We) brought up doing the web cam scenario and it is going to be looked at in the 2012 budget. North Saanich has now set a precedent…”
Many residents expect that their local government will have an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to transparency and accessibility of information. It appears however, that each Municipality has a great deal of latitude when determining exactly how ‘open’ that door will be. Citizens everywhere around the world continue to exercise their democratic rights to ensure that their representatives make information readily available so that informed decisions are made on Election Day.