Our occasional contributor Mr. Daniels is concerned about missing comments on the Town website as another instance of observed lack of openness in Town governance. Here is a copy of a letter sent to the Town Council with his questions and observations :
September 12, 2009
Dear Mayor and Councilors:
At the July 21st Special Council meeting at which the Draft Strategic Plan (“DSP”) was discussed, the Mayor, I recall, stated that the Town had received 12 written comments and that they would be placed on the Town’s website.
At the time of the July 27th Fiscal Sustainability Task Force meeting, none of the comments had yet been placed on the website. I asked Town Administrative officials about the delay and was told that they would appear very soon. (My own comment had appeared and then disappeared.)
A few days later, five comments appeared. Why weren’t the other seven comments placed on the website? And of equal importance, who made the decision to exclude them?
All public comments which may influence Council decisions should be made public, unless there are good reasons why they should not. The presumption should be that public comments be made “public”. The 5th Guiding Principle of Council is: “Open and Transparent Communication: The communication process will be open, effective, efficient and accountable to the citizens of Wolfville.”
Why is it important for the public to know what their fellow residents are writing to our Council members? Here are two reasons.
What would happen if a public comment read by Council contains facts or arguments which other members of the public dispute or disagree with. Without a public airing, the the public has no opportunity to correct the facts or provide a counter-argument.
Second, comments by some of the residents keep other members of the public informed, not only about his or her opinions and differing viewpoints, but about aspects or facts of life in Wolfville which not all residents may be aware of.
Are there privacy issues if the comments are posted on the website? I was told by a Town administration official that one reason for the delay in posting the public comments was that the Town was in the process of contacting the writers of comments and ask if they had any objections to the posting.
One solution seems straightforward. The writer’s name and any information which might identify the writer can be removed.
But is there such a right to privacy for those who write letters to the Council? The answer to this question may be found by answering another question: whether the comments would be accessible to public scrutiny in accordance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy or Part XX of the Municipal Government Act (“MGA”). In other words, if I were to come to Town Hall and request copies of all public comments submitted concerning the Draft Strategic Plan, could the Town turn down my request? It does not appear that such public comments are exempted from disclosure by the Acts.
Of equal importance is the question: who made the decision to keep certain public comments off the website?
There is no Policy listed on the website which appears to deal with the issue of what comments should or should not be placed on the Town’s website.
The Town is governed by the Council (MGA Section 10) and the powers of the Town are exercised by Council (MGA Section 14). One benefit of Council making decisions are that they are required to be made in public, and hopefully after public input is permitted.
In light of the Council’s 5th Guiding Principle, and the statements in both the MPS and DSP, it is clear that Council considers an engaged public and transparent government essential. I hope that important decisions concerning the ways the Town residents become informed and engaged are not left to others to make.
David A. Daniels
LATER: After we posted this submission as requested we looked at the Town Website and the only comments we saw INDICATED were for the 4 way stop , on the Transportation initiative and a very old one on the New Years Levee fiasco. Couldn’t find any on the strategic plan . The comments box reads zero. Here’s a screen shot:
BUT if you click on the “Add comments ” you can read the comments: There are about 9 posted: from Lutz Becker, David Daniels, Michaele Kustudic, Judith Aro, Ann Anderson and others. But who would think to look at them since the comments box reads zero?
We hesitate to suggest that this glitch -convenient from some points of view- is purposeful. It certainly could add to Mr. Daniels frustration.
So – our advice- if you see there are no comments- look anyway. 🙂
There are actually very few places where residents can enter comments on the almost overwhelming multiplicity of documents on the site. It seems there are only options for comments on the main pages.
We are terribly disappointed in how this (joomla platform) website has been developed. If anything it is even more dense from the resident point of view than before. Hard to believe frankly.