City councillor calls for open data policy

Push from inside, outside council for more transparency at city hall

What started as a status update on the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project spiraled into a debate about the public’s right to know.

Sparking the controversy in council chambers last week was the citizen advisory panel.

Tasked with giving advice to city staff on the evolving $77-million Johnson Street Bridge project, the seven-member panel meetings are not open to the public.

“If the members of the panel themselves are publicly known and the minutes are subsequently released, what would be lost by making those meetings public?” asked Coun. Philippe Lucas.

The incident is just the latest in a rash of recent calls for more transparency at City Hall.

Last week, a elector organization dubbed Open Victoria made similar demands. The group endorses candidates for the upcoming civic election, based on shared values, including “Opening up City Hall decision-making to greater scrutiny and public input, especially for finances and planning.”

The city’s handling of Crystal Pool provides a good example of what’s fueling the group’s criticism.

Open Victoria spokesperson, Derry McDonell has been trying to get his hands on an assessment report of the aging facility for months. The document is expected to reveal very costly repair or replacement options, estimated in 2009 at $58 million.

Despite being completed July 14, the report isn’t available for public consumption because it hasn’t been shared with city council. As per city policy, city staff must prepare its own report, then present the two documents to council together.

It’s the type of frustration that might be resolved by adopting an open data practice.

The idea behind open data is simple: if taxpayers paid for the data, then they should have access to it.

Coun. Marianne Alto put forward a motion to adopt an open-data policy last week.

People should be able to search for information generated by the city, find it easily and use it, explained Alto.

“As soon as you get an item, it is immediately released,” she said, qualifying data containing legal, privacy or personnel concerns be exempt.

She points to Vancouver as a model.

For instance, that city posts its business registry online, listing owner’s name, size and number of employees.Voting records for each councillor is another example of information not yet available in Victoria.

While Alto acknowledges posting so much information online takes staff time and money, there are also cost savings. Instead of calling staff to get basic information, people can find it for themselves.

Council unanimously passed the motion at the governance and priorities committee meeting last Thursday, and gave it final consideration at yesterday’s council meeting (after •••••••••News deadline).

While sharing data with the public found easy support on council, opening the bridge project’s citizen advisory panel proved more contentious.

“Our staff need the ability to go out and seek advice on their own,” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “Those are not open meetings.”

City manager Gail Stephens chairs the the panel meetings, which occur on an as-needed basis.

“The panel is just a management tool bringing advice to administration,” she said. “It would not be usual for a city manager to chair a public body.”

Lucas suggested directing more bridge-project discussions to the environment and infrastructure public advisory committee, whose meetings are open to the public.

Staff will examine the options and bring them back to council for discussion.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Victoria councillors want city greenhouses used for food production during COVID-19

Couns. Ben Isitt and Jeremy Loveday are proposing new food security strategies

UPDATED: Crash snarls early morning Malahat traffic

Incident backed up commuters near Okotoks Drive

Greater Victoria charities organize physically distanced tent, sleeping bag drive

Neighbourhood Response Team accepts sleeping bags, mats and tents Saturday in Victoria

COVID-19: Access school resources with new virtual education hub

Shaw and EVERFI create onling learning resource for Canadian youth

Frontline volunteers bring handwashing stations to Pandora tent city and beyond

‘The basic premise of this is to fight COVID-19 … right?’

B.C. records five new COVID-19 deaths, ‘zero chance’ life will return to normal in April

Province continue to have a recovery rate of about 50 per cent

Vancouver Island’s ‘Project Draw Breath’ expands and diversifies to battle pandemic

Grassroots team working to up supplies of ventilators, other equipment during COVID-19 crisis

Trudeau says Parliament needs to sit to pass expanded COVID-19 benefits

Wage subsidy program has been greatly expanded since it was first approved

UPDATE: Anti-tax group calls for MPs, senators to donate scheduled pay raises to charity

Bill C-30, adopted 15 years ago, mandates the salary and allowance increases each calendar year

Liberals delay release of 75% wage subsidy details, costs: Morneau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

World COVID-19 update: NATO suspicious of Russian military drills; Cruise ships ordered to stay at sea

Comprehensive update of coronavirus news from around the world for Wednesday, April 1

6.5-magnitude earthquake in Idaho shakes B.C. Interior

An earthquake was reportedly felt just before 5 p.m. throughout the Okanagan

John Horgan extends B.C.’s state of emergency for COVID-19

Premier urges everyone to follow Dr. Bonnie Henry’s advice

Two inmates at prison housing Robert Pickton test positive for COVID-19

Correctional Service of Canada did not release any details on the identities of the inmates

Most Read