Tuesday, September 27, 2011
**UPDATE** Those missing six hours of the Sept 13 Planning Committee Meeting have now been included in the audio archives, two weeks after the fact.
City Hall watchers, advisory board members and other municipal activists-at-large protested back in the Spring when councillors made the move from detailed "synopsis minutes" of standing committee meetings to a combination of less-detailed "action minutes" and audio archives of the meetings. Several councils were themselves unhappy with the decision, and attempted to repeal it a couple weeks later. They were unsuccessful: MOTION.doc
The argument FOR the new system is that it makes the decision-making process more transparent and councillors more accountable than ever before, because every word of every presentation, every debate, is recorded for posterity. Or is it?
Conservationist Erwin Dreessen, who is perhaps best know around City Hall for his association with the Greenspace Alliance of Canada's Capital, has noticed a problem with the audio archives from the Planning Committee meeting of Sept. 13. The final hour is there, but the first six aren't.
In an open letter to the mayor and council, Dreessen laments, "the inadequate access, let alone total absence, of this information hampers my rights as a citizen to see on what basis decisions are made and to prepare myself should I wish to contest any part of your recommendations." Several other activists have piled on, including Paul Renaud of the Coalition to Protect the South March Highlands, another group that's recently taken the city to court over development issues. "We've been forced to rely on summaries, and unfortunately some of the summaries don't give you the depth of clarity and understanding, and that just breeds alarm.
Here's an example of those "inadequate" action minutes that citizens are forced to rely on when the audio conks out. But even when it works, critics complain it's not searchable, so they sometimes have to sit through hours of tape to find the item they're looking for. That's not ideal either.
The chair of the Planning Committee, Peter Hume, admits the system's not perfect. "I do admit we need to work on that and make sure that they're fully operational all the time." Hume points out that when the audio does work, it's available online before the action minutes are (those aren't posted until the minutes are confirmed at the next meeting of that committee, typically two weeks later). So it's looking like Erwin Dreessen's complaints about the new system are falling on deaf ears at City Hall.