Ombudsperson calls for transparency in local government

B.C. ombudsperson Kim Carter visited Abbotsford council to talk about proper use of closed meetings.

B.C. ombudsperson Kim Carter visited Abbotsford city council on Monday.

B.C. ombudsperson Kim Carter visited Abbotsford city council on Monday.

The need for transparency in local governments was the topic of a presentation to council Monday night.

Kim Carter, the ombudsperson for B.C., spoke about the best practices for appropriately closing meetings to the public, which she said is a recurring issue in local governments.

The role of the ombudsperson is to oversee government activities, including municipalities, and ensure openness and accountability.

Carter has been travelling to communities in B.C., giving presentations on the protocol for closing meetings in order to minimize future complaints.

“It’s something we think that is really important for transparency and accountability and good governance.”

To close a meeting, the discussion would have to reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality, though if harm is minimal, the meeting can be opened in the name of transparency.

Mayor Bruce Banman said Carter’s presentation was a good reminder of protocol for closed meetings, but said he thinks Abbotsford is doing a good job of disclosing information to the public.

“Our policies are pretty much bang on… But I think it’s always good to hear that you need to be more open…”

He said the city needs to strive every day towards transparency and making information available to the public.

Carter explained that the community charter requires general information about a closed meeting be released so the community can understand why the discussion is closed. Carter emphasized that information in closed meetings should be recorded, and made public when possible.

City clerk Bill Flitton said the city already has protocol to make information available, usually by including recommendations in reports suggesting information from a closed meeting be made public when possible.

Flitton said schedules for closed meetings are posted within city hall and in the council agendas online. But the city will specifically post a list of closed meetings online.  “It’s not that it wasn’t advertised before, it’s just that we’re going to be a little more deliberate.”