Transparency in Local Government
Transparency is one of my core values. It’s my conviction that good governance does not happen without openness and because of this I am committed to clarity and forthrightness. I believe that transparency isn’t just about publicizing information (though that is crucial) but also about public engagement, reaching out to citizens and listening to their voices. Because of this, I have made it a habit of organizing and attending public discussions and conversing regularly with constituents on a range of issues. My office also has a strong culture of transparency, responding to constituents with diligence, thoughtfulness, and respect.
However, there were a few concerns raised recently in regards to a council meeting in part held in camera (in private), and though I do appreciate the base of the concerns, I can say with confidence that the private nature was not without good reason. While it’s standard practice for Council to release all reports and publically hold meetings, there are a few instances where this is simply not possible.
When dealing with contracts, confidential information, and FOIP laws we must tread carefully. In the particular instance referenced, the information shared was quite simply private (as per Edmonton-Leduc annexation protocol), and therefore unshareable. The actual reports shared were the Capital Region Board growth reports which are directly related to the Edmonton-Leduc annexation, therefore, rendering it private. In order to honour the rules set in place regarding information-sharing, and provide fairness to all parties, it is sometimes necessary to withhold certain parts of reports from the public and hold meetings privately.
Additionally, there are strategic considerations for holding meetings in private, as can often be the case with intergovernmental affairs. Quite frankly, privacy is sometimes necessary to facilitate open discussion, as it eliminates potential political ramifications for particular viewpoints, this is in line with what other government levels practice.
OPEN CITY POLICY
Edmonton adopted the Open City Policy in April of 2015, which is structured around the principles of Open Channels, Open Data, Open Information, and Open Engagement. The purpose of the policy is to foster and encourage transparency, participation, collaboration, inclusiveness and innovation. To execute this, the City has established 6 key target goals:
- Manage information and data assets as a strategic resource.
- Ensure information and data are open by default and private where appropriate.
- Expand opportunities to foster a collaborative environment and engage Edmontonians to ensure municipal activities reflect community values, priorities, and standards.
- Embrace technology and new business models to deliver services to Edmontonians.
- Remove barriers to access and open up new possibilities for collaboration between Edmontonians and the City.
- Work with other public and private sector organizations for the advancement of Open City principles.
Overall, the City has an exemplary record when it comes to transparency. While both Federal and Provincial Governments also hold general meetings in public, we are unique in that we hold committee meetings publically. While Edmonton doesn’t have any nominal cabinets we do have a close parallel in our committees. Imagine a Federal or Provincial caucus meeting or even a cabinet meeting open to the public! Imagine!
A great example of this commitment to transparency was the public budget hearings in 2015. As a Council, we deliberated the 2016-2018 operating budget in public at the City Council meetings, and furthermore, we set aside time to hear from Edmontonians about their thoughts on the budget. This is a practice not employed federally or provincially where budgets are compiled in private and are only released after completion.
All of the City’s data is open for public consumption, for a comprehensive look at the resources, check out the link here. With our open data policy, anyone can see the exact dollar amounts we both take in and expend, down to every last item. For Council, being open with data and any other information isn’t a luxury, it’s a necessity.
Municipal Governments are arguably the most transparent of any level of government. Edmonton has a deeply entrenched culture of transparency and openness; from publically open and broadcast meetings, extensive public outreach, accessible reports, to much, much more.