Recent goings-on at City Hall (Part 1)

Friday, 30 April: Council Advisory Committee meeting

On Friday, 30 April, the Council Advisory Committee was asked by CAO Peter Kelley to consider abolishing requests for verbatim accounts of Council and Standing Committee meetings because (a) they take up too much of staff’s time, (b) no other municipality does this, and (c) citizens can view the video recordings on the City of Charlottetown YouTube channel.

Why is this request unacceptable and undemocratic?

  1. The poor quality of the video and audio technology in Council Chambers. 
    • The persons and presenters sitting at the “bottom of the screen” are not visible, so the viewer does not know who is speaking.
    • The words of a person speaking with a low, weak, or mumbling voice, or sitting far from the microphone, are not picked up. It is therefore difficult, if not impossible, for the viewer to hear what is being said when watching the meeting.
    • While the Closed Captioning (CC) feature is an option, it does not capture every word perfectly, and does not identify the speaker.
  2. Meeting packages for Special Council meetings are not available online.
  3. The federal and provincial governments use Hansard services to record official reports of proceeding and debates, while municipal governments’ proceedings and debates are either recorded online, e.g. Toronto, London, Regina, Halifax and/or reported by journalists in local newspapers. Media reporting of the City of Charlottetown Council and committee meetings are spotty at best. Moreover, neither The Guardian nor CBC have a full-time dedicated municipal affairs reporter. This leaves citizens to obtain information on their own, or to remain ignorant of decisions and debates that may directly affect them.
  4. The Council Code of Conduct Bylaw (#2020-CC-01) states under Part II – PRINCIPLES:

8.4. Members of Council are responsible for the decisions that they make. This responsibility includes acts of commission and acts of omission. In turn, decision-making processes must be transparent and subject to public scrutiny.

8.6. Members of Council must demonstrate and promote the principles of this Bylaw through their decisions, actions, and behaviour. Their behaviour must build and inspire the public’s trust and confidence in municipal government.

8.8. Members of Council have a duty to demonstrate openness and transparency about their decisions and actions.

Abolishing the long-established practice of verbatim account requests would contribute to not only eroding the public’s trust and confidence, but also making local government less transparent and accountable.

Monday, 10 May: Monthly Council Meeting

A slightly different version of the above text was sent in an e-mail to all councillors on the morning of 10 May.

That evening, Councillor Alanna Jankov – as Chair of the Council Advisory Committee – reported to Council:

“Youʼll also notice in our minutes that we did have a discussion around the requests for verbatim minutes and thatʼs just been tabled for future meeting with Council as we needed more information about what best practices are in municipalities.”

Councillor Jankov starts speaking at 1:03:45 (Video recording).

Charleston → Charlottetown: Coincidence?

Editorial in Charleston, NCʼs The Post and Courier published 24 January 2021: “Wait one minute. You want to do what to Charleston City Council minutes?” While Charlestonʼs meetings have been recorded verbatim in their entirety, Charlottetown councillors request verbatim accounts only occasionally for a specific segment of a meeting debate.

This month, Clerk of Council Jennifer Cook sought council’s permission to change the approach to those minutes from a verbatim account of what was said at the meeting to a summary approach. No doubt, the change would save on staff time, and anyone who wants to hear all the nitty-gritty details can (at least for now) easily find a recording of City Council meetings on the city’s YouTube site.

The Post and Courier, Charleston, NC

https://www.postandcourier.com/opinion/editorials/editorial-wait-one-minute-you-want-to-do-what-to-charleston-city-council-minutes/article_ce769d24-5b60-11eb-8690-83daf67d309c.html

Posted: 12 May 2021 at 7:52 am | Updated: 10 July 2021 at 20:15 pm