Ombudsperson Floats Idea to Release Minutes of In Camera Meetings
Prince George, B.C.- “We view ourselves as having an important role in the transparency of all public office” says BC Ombudsperson Jay Chalke.
In a presentation to Prince George City Council, Chalke suggested Council look back at previous closed meetings, and see if the minutes from such sessions can be released once the issue discussed in camera has been dealt with. “I think that really does go a long way to showing that, as a Council, you are committed to transparency.”
Chalke also gave Mayor and Council a quick class in what his office is all about “Our roles is to identify and uphold administrative fairness” said Chalke.”
With over 2800 public bodies in BC under their jurisdiction, the Office of the Ombudsperson investigated nearly 7900 complaints in 2015/16.
More than half dealt with Provincial Government Ministries.
At the local government level, the majority of the complaints investigated across the province, had to deal with adequacy of information (41%) followed by complaints about bylaw enforcement (24%).
“We are impartial investigators” says Chalke, who made it clear his office’s role is not to support a complainant, rather to find a way to resolve the issue. “We don’t have the authority to order a public body to do things” he says that is why they try to reach a resolution that will satisfy both parties.
Conflict resolution in the past has included such things:
- reimbursing fines or penalties,
- reconsidering an enforcement decision,
- providing an apology,
- providing written or verbal reasons for a decision,
- amending a bylaw, or changing or developing a policy.
Councillor Garth Frizzell wanted to know what kind of costs are involved in getting information to the public but Chalke says the costs of providing the information in the first place may be cheaper “It’s going to be released anyway because someone is going to request it.”
“I think it is absolutely true that lack of transparency leads to suspicions” says Chalke.