Comments? UPDATED!

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.

Respectfully,

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:

Town - zero comments

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? crop zero comments

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.

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6 responses to “Comments? UPDATED!

  1. Thanks for the link to the “lost” comments. It’s always interesting to see what others have figured out.

  2. If you really want to know what is going on come to this site. More people should post here.
    Also Wolfville is looking for another status to put behind our name. Now we are nuke free, Fair Trade,
    Community in Bloom and now SLOW. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, or did I leave anything out

  3. Smoke free would be nice.

  4. Until I get my own website, which should be soon, I would like to ask a question of the folks who comment on this one.

    Has anyone used Google Earth to soar over our town and the surrounding area. Would anyone say that we are lacking in farmland, or trees that produce oxygen and take in carbon dioxide?

    It seems that we in the valley are living in the cleanest atmosphere of anyone outside of the larger provinces.
    If we are getting too much pollution in the air we breath, I doubt if it is sourced here in the valley.

    We should be throwing sticks at the big polluters in other countries and provinces. Instead of the windmills, why isn’t natural gas being promoted instead. Or even solar heating. There are lots of practical solutions for living “green”. Try asking some of us who grew up in the thirties…..before it is too late.

    • Yep, I’m a googleearth’er too and I’ve taken the odd drive around the countryside. It seems like there is plenty of abandoned and under-utilized farmland in NS.

      I grew up in New Zealand… Comparing farming here with there, I’d say the biggest problem is that it gets too doggone cold in NS. You are absolutely right, that doesn’t stop the trees from growing!

      Carbon is a really neat atom. Hydrocarbons are an excellent way of storing energy… otherwise evolution might have created creatures with NiCad battery packs.

      Even if you don’t use fossil fuel, it’s better to store sunlight in hydrocarbons than in those silly batteries. Technologies have been around since before the war… and only get better. (Indeed, there may not have been a WW2 if the Germans couldn’t make syngas… now there’s a cheery thought.)

      Solar energy is very cheap for heat and very expensive for electricity. Unfortunately, using solar for heat does require a little space and a little thought…

      At the moment, fossil fuel is cheap… so we use it, sensible creatures that we are.

      • Look to Nature/ the handiwork of God/who?/evolution/whatever. He/It/She/Chance? knew how to do this long before we did. Take the cue from HIM/HER/IT/GOD whatever. The real scientists – NOT the pseudo scientists- search the mind of God [or etc] and sometimes give us clues to follow. If we are sensible …