Editorial: Council needs to do more than talk about transparency

Public would welcome a return to committee of the whole meetings, rather than closed-door and unadvertised sessions

During the last couple of municipal elections, Pentictonites heard a lot about openness and transparency and promises to bring more of it to city council.

That never happened, though Penticton city council is not the first to conduct business behind closed doors.

But some level of openness was lost when the 2008-11 council dropped the committee of the whole meetings. Committee rules allow for more open discussion amongst councillors, with less formality, from which recommendations are made to a regular council meeting to be voted on.

On the other end of the spectrum, the public is excluded from in camera meetings which are supposed to be limited to discussing land, labour or legal matters — issues where open discussion could be damaging to future interests.

But council has found another way to go behind closed doors, and that is simply by not telling anyone a meeting is taking place.

That was the case this week during a second round of discussions of the Cemetery Services Master Plan.

Nothing in the consultant’s report qualifies for in camera treatment. But council’s first hearing of the report was in a workshop, technically open. That is, if anyone but council and staff knew when it was happening.

There is little difference between a meeting conducted behind closed doors and one only the participants know about.

Community members deserve to hear council’s real discussion on this or any matter if they choose to, not just a watered-down version presented at the regular council meeting.

A return to the committee of the whole would be a move towards openness, as would taking a tip from School District 67 and publishing the dates of all meetings, including committees and workshops.