Going public

Dinn continues effort to see more town business discussed in open

Paradise Town Council is continuing to explore ways to increase transparency in light of two reports released near the end of last month by the Information and Privacy Commissioner.  

At the Feb. 20 regular meeting of council, Councillor Paul Dinn, chairperson of the communications committee, updated his colleagues on his work examining communications possibilities to increase transparency to residents.

“In the spirit of communications, I’d like to give a quick update since our last council meeting,” said Dinn, referencing the Feb. 6 council meeting where Dinn was charged with exploring ways to increase transparency for the Town following the release of the Information and Privacy Commissioner’s recent reports.

Dinn said he met and worked with Town staff to continue to explore the possibility of making committee of the whole meetings public, a suggestion which was addressed at the previous council meeting.

Traditionally, committee of the whole, or privileged meetings, were reserved by municipalities for legal and human resources matters. However, some towns, including Paradise, have slipped into the practice of using the privileged sessions to discuss most of the town’s business, using the public meetings merely to ratify decisions already made in private.

“Staff are going to go (forward) and see what’s being done in other jurisdictions with regards to the committee of the whole meetings,” said Dinn. “I think letting our public and residents see and hear the discussion is definitely a plus, so staff are exploring that and hopefully we’ll have a recommendation put forward to council in the coming weeks.”

Dinn went further this week, saying that a possibility put forward at the communications meeting for staff to explore is the possibility of posting Access to Information Requests on the Town’s website. The responses to Access Requests are automatically released by the Privacy Commissioner’s Office 30 days after they have been answered by the responding party. Dinn’s idea would see the actual requests for information posted as well.

“What we’ve realized as a committee is that we get a lot of repeat requests, we have people looking for very similar information,” said Dinn. “So going forward we’re going to explore putting our ATIPPA requests up on our site. We obviously won’t be identifying the applicant, but we will identify the issue that was requested and we will put up the information that was put out there.”

Dinn said the town receives a large volume of access to information requests and publishing the information could be a potential solution to increase transparency and reduce the number of requests received by the Town.

“I think it would reduce some requests and it would make us more open and accountable in terms of the information that we put out there,” said Dinn.

“As long as it meets the guidelines of the ATIPPA legislation,” responded Mayor Dan Bobbett.

“We will not be putting anything up that wasn’t under those guidelines,” clarified Dinn.

“Absolutely not,” said the mayor.

Dinn again clarified that the published information would not include any applicant information, which would violate the Access to Information and Personal Privacy Act. Dinn then suggested the Town streamline communications with residents in regards to town projects. He pointed to an information session held for residents in the Clearview Heights area which allowed residents to meet one on one with town engineers to address concerns about street upgrades and plans for a roundabout. Dinn noted some residents were unhappy with the one on one format, and would have preferred a more public airing.

“We know from that evening many were happy with the one on one, and many were unhappy with the one on one,” said Dinn, allowing the meeting format was a pilot for the Town. “I think it came down to communication and what was perceived to be happening… I think communications is key to anything and I think going forward our communications should be new and improved and more streamlined.”

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