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Powell River city councillors receive correspondence about the release of in-camera information

Transparency questioned in letter reviewed at committee of the whole meeting
SEEKING INFORMATION: City councillors received a letter about release of information from closed meetings at the February 16 committee of the whole meeting.

Concerns have been raised to city councillors about the release of information from in-camera meetings.

At the February 16 committee of the whole meeting, councillors reviewed a letter from resident Pat Martin, which mentioned that while researching the city’s website, it has come to her attention that the webpage for in-camera reports released to the public is “several years in arrears in the release of this information.”

Martin stated that the last online entry on the website is dated May 15, 2016, for a release of information from a meeting on January 15, 2015.

“It’s improbable that everything discussed by council in-camera in the past six years still needs confidentiality,” stated Martin.

She requested that the city update its webpage from January 2015 until the current date, including the minutes of those meetings, in order to comply with the city’s policy 249, which refers to the routine release of closed resolutions and related documents. She also referred to the BC Ombudsperson’s special report on best practices, which states “as much information as possible should be released in order to achieve the goal of openness, transparency and accountability without compromising the interests of the local government, the public or a third party.”

Councillor Rob Southcott said the correspondence raised a couple of questions for him. He said there was a date mentioned in the letter, which was May 15, 2016, for the last time there was release of in-camera information on the city’s website. He said through the process of rise and report at council meetings, the city released information very recently that had to do with a decision made to sell the Cranberry fire hall.

“That is an example of in-camera information that was released,” said Southcott. “Consequently, it is my suspicion that other in-camera information has been released. I’d like to ask the corporate officer if this is true.”

Corporate officer Chris Jackson said there have been a number of rise and reports of in-camera information, and the city has also issued news releases regarding in-camera items.

Councillor Cindy Elliott said the point brought up in the letter is fair. She said before becoming a city councillor she thought it odd that there was little information in that section of the website. She said the way the city provides information online could be improved. Elliott said it is council’s responsibility to hear from the community about this issue.

“It’s a fair point and we could do a bit better about how we communicate our information,” said Elliott. “I’d like to see that.”

Councillor CaroleAnn Leishman, chair of the committee of the whole, said some good points had been made. She said many of the items discussed in-camera are released but she thinks it might be the way they are released, such as through media releases, don’t necessarily say the information was released from an in-camera meeting.

“It probably is time to get an update of things over the past few years that were in-camera that have been released and are out in the public realm,” said Leishman. “I totally understand that administrative staff and other staff are stretched to add to their workloads, so I don’t know if there is any member of council who wants to go through the meetings and do a list of things that were dealt with and brought out.

“I think for transparency it’s a good point that the public doesn’t know a lot of the announcements or items that ended up coming onto a public agenda were actually on an in-camera agenda to begin with.”

Councillor Maggie Hathaway said on behalf of council, they had been asking for release of in-camera information and it’s strictly a capacity issue.

“We understand that as well,” said Hathaway. “I just want to make it perfectly clear we are not trying to hide anything.”

She said in releasing in-camera information, it has to be gone through with a fine-toothed comb and it takes time.

Council gave unanimous consent to receive the letter.