City hall would be transparent in its actions and open for business, Trail Mayor Mike Martin promised constituents during his November 2014 civic campaign.
One year into his term, Martin is keeping that assurance by suggesting the city go one step further than airing Trail council after the fact – he’s hoping to stream public meetings, “as it happens” and over the Internet.
“There have been a number of comments from citizens with regard to the key decisions made by council,” he told the Trail Times. “But nothing negative in regards to the transparency of council. The comments have been more along the line of the brevity of the regular council meeting broadcast with no direct insight into some of the key decisions made by council.”
Trail council generally discusses city business twice a month on Monday afternoons. Agendas are published on the Trail website the preceding Friday, before matters are talked over, sometimes debated, and votes cast during the GOC (Governance and Operations Committee) sessions.
Later Monday night, a brief GOC report is read during the taping of Trail council – decisions are broadcast but related discussions are not rehashed. And not everybody is privy to the Trail council meetings that air Thursday evenings – only Shaw TV subscribers can catch the action on Channel 10.
“My suggestion to council is to have staff investigate the cost of setting up the committee room to allow for “streaming” of the GOC meetings through the city website,” explained Martin. “And in this way, the activity of council would be available to any citizen of Trail who has Internet access.”
The structure of the Trail city council meetings is that most department business, such as public works and recreation, is completed at the GOC meetings ahead of the regular Monday night council.
The committee meetings are open to the public but poorly attended – usually only delegations or members of media are present.
Key decisions are reported through other avenues, such as an on-line summary of council decisions and reports from media, as well as meeting minutes, made available on the city’s website.
“However, the public cannot see the discussion, debate and decision making of council at the GOC meeting unless personally attending the meetings,” Martin reiterated. “Regular council meeting proceedings broadcast through Shaw Cable only provides a limited insight into council activities and is only available to those who have access to the Shaw network.”
Streaming requires specific resources, so more investigation is required before council considers it an option.
“We should have the cost to install the necessary audio and video equipment in the new year and we will then be in a position to make a decision on whether or not to proceed,” Martin added. “The matter will likely form part of the budget deliberations in January.”
While most city business can be dealt with publicly, there certain subject matters which, because of their sensitive private nature or relevance to current or impeding litigation, are exempt from the general rule.
Legislation prescribes what items can be discussed in an in-camera meeting. For the most part the “general rule” is content involving land, labour or legal considerations. The legislation was expanded a number of years ago and there are other specific considerations that can go in-camera including the discussion regarding a newly contemplated service and items that will be included in the city’s performance summary that must be included in the annual report.