*** Please note: we did have some technical issues with some candidates' emails so not all responses appeared in the print edition. We apologize for the error. ***
Councils across the province and beyond have been criticized for doing the community’s work behind closed doors and public meetings have been labelled “rubber stamp” sessions. We’ve even seen some councils institute gag orders to keep councillors from speaking publicly. We asked council hopefuls for Corner Brook, Stephenville and Deer Lake: Can you tell us your views on transparency at council and, if elected, how you plan to communicate with the electorate?
MARY ANN MURPHY
Council has an obligation when dealing with sensitive, legal and land issues and these matters have to be dealt with in private. All other business should be transparent. Council has an obligation to the residents to keep them informed on the decisions made by their elected officials. In the past, when a decision was made at council and supported by councilors, the mayor speaks on behalf of council, but that does not, in any way prevent other councilors to speak on the topic.
I believe in open and transparent communication. Citizens have a fundamental right to know how and why decisions by their elected representatives are made. Councillors have an inherent responsibility to speak publically on issues before council and to be held accountable for the decisions. Through open dialog the public will gain greater awareness and understanding. There are areas of sensitivity involving HR, legal and land that must be dealt with in a professional manner. These would be the only issues requiring privacy.
Anyone who knows me knows I'm an open book. The business of council is the business of every citizen of the city. There is a serious lack of communication going from city hall to the public (intentional or not). Often people don’t know the issues being discussed until a decision has been made. When I walk the streets of Corner Brook, I want to hold my head high, so dealing openly and honestly is a priority for me.
There are some files that have to be handled in private sessions of council for obvious reasons. Councillors are elected to represent the people that voted them in office therefore they must have a voice around the council table for those they represent. There is absolutely no reason for any elected official to be gagged or told they can't speak for those who they serve. Elected politicians work for the electorate and that must never change.
Our political system is a representative democracy, with ultimate power in the hands of the electorate. As such, it is a fundamental principle that citizens have a right to know what their representatives and government are doing on their behalf, unless that knowing threatens either the security of the state or any of its members. This could be added to freedom of thought, expression and the press as pillars of our society.
Council should be open and transparent — that is a given. There is a fine line between putting all the information on the table and protecting a person’s or business’s interests in dealing with the city. As a councillor, I will not accept gag orders or hidden agendas on the part of council or the city. Council should debate issues at their meetings. Debating and speaking about concerns often leads to a much better outcome.
Council must be open to discuss policies it intends to implement and the direction it intends to take. Transparency allows for public discourse to occur, opinions to be formed and reactions to be expressed. Communication is the key to moving Corner Brook forward in a positive way. Active in community, residents will continue to see me by our fields, in our gyms, arenas and arts venues. I am active via social media. Out and about, I am always ready to listen.
Council should conduct its business in an open and transparent way, then all citizens are fully informed about decisions and rationale as to why they are made. Council members should speak to issues openly and honestly through media and public forums. Only exception to this would be matters related to human resources, legal issues and negotiations involving purchase or sale of land. Transparency creates understanding and that's the key to improved stakeholder relationship.
The municipal councillors’ handbook issued by the Department of Municipal Affairs clearly states, “Privileged meetings should be exceptions; they should not be used as a matter of course to regularly exclude the public from council deliberations”. This is exactly what’s happening here in Corner Brook. Abusing private meetings like this opens council up to rumour and suspicion and also sends a clear message to the public that “we don’t care about you”.
You deserve much better treatment than that.
All members of council have a duty to seek input from residents and to share their own views publicly. No council I lead will ever prevent a councillor from speaking their mind. I am committed to more frequent public meetings which means decisions of council will be discussed and voted on in public. With today’s technology, communication should be more open and information more accessible. I would like to host regular town hall meetings.
Matters from the private sector made public at an inappropriate time could have a negative impact on the proposed development of an entrepreneur. That is not to say that an appropriate time will arise when details become disclosed to the general public, particularly if there are negative aspects arising. Common sense dictates the appropriate time to release details. Unless such issues arise, there's no sensible reason why other issues have to be dealt with in a closed meeting.
I took my 10-year-old to the last meeting of council. He asked if meetings were always this boring. I said, "Yes, but they don't have to be!" Council meetings should be about understanding the issues via open discussion, then voting. You could have attended every meeting of the last four years and learned absolutely nothing about the city.
I will fully discuss issues at council meetings where it matters, and put myself on the record.
Communication and transparency are essential components of a council’s relationship with the residents. Recent additions to the city's communication strategy such as tweeting council meetings, minutes available online, responding to media requests quickly and a new up-to-date website have helped get information to the public. The media is our main avenue to get information out so being gagged, unless it’s for public protection, is not appropriate.
We have views and should be free to express them.
Councillors have a duty to taxpayers that have put them in place. Closed-door meetings should only be used when protection of taxpayers and business confidentially is required. Taxpayers have a right to know what is happening and how their tax dollar is being spent. I would seek assistance from the media in all forms. Taxpayers deserve updates more than once a year at budget time. Gag orders work on those who would be followers, not on real leaders. I will not be stifled.
Communication with the community is extremely important and it’s what got me elected. During my two and a half years on council I’ve worked hard to ensure the city has increased its transparency through greater communication on our website and social media sites. I will continue to press for improved communications if re-elected. Individual councillors should be able to speak with the media without having to get the permission of the mayor, which is how our current council operates.
I believe that we need to first exercise good communication practices internally among staff, management and council. We must foster an atmosphere where staff opinions are not only heard, but also encouraged. Only when we are conducting business within city hall effectively, openly and transparently can we then apply that same mindset to improve our communication with the public. I have been vocal on many topics, and I have absolutely no intention of supporting gag orders or becoming silent.
If the new Council is transparent so that people know what it is doing, the people will give Council their trust. With trust comes cooperation. With cooperation problems can be solved, and people will regain their confidence in the future of Corner Brook. With confidence, anything becomes possible. I will be transparent. I will be vocal. In four years time, no one will honestly be able to ask — Hounsell, where did you disappear to?
The citizens of Corner Brook have every right to hear in a clear, concise and timely fashion how their elected officials vote on issues. I will continue to do as I have in the past, talk with people, accumulate information and ask for help when I need it in order to make an informed decision. The only exception to that would be issues relating to human resources and legal matters. I believe in open doors and healthy debates.
My first priority is to open the lines of communication and improve transparency. Closed door meetings lead to suspicion and lack of trust with residents and most of these meetings need to be replaced with public meetings. When decisions are made about issues concerning residents they have a right to see how these decisions were made. Reducing the number of closed meetings will lead to more transparency and will be seen as a more open and honest approach by residents.
I believe in openness and transparency at council meetings and keeping our residence in tune to what is happening in our town. My policy during the past four years was openness and transparency and will continue to be if elected for the next four years.
This is certainly one of my biggest concerns with the current council, however progress has been made in this area with displaying minutes on the town website, as an example. All issues and concerns should be known to us, the taxpayers. It’s important to do due diligences. I believe we should be 100 per cent transparent, with town finances at the top. If elected, I would encourage the sharing of information between council and the voting public.
Much of the work of council is done by committees who bring recommendations back to regular council meetings to be adopted. Recommendations are included in committee reports which become a part of the minutes. Committees have time to check town policies and regulations and research issues which would be time consuming at a regular council meeting. Other than personnel, legal or other sensitive issues, the business of council should be open to all residents , available on the town website.
Any meeting or session involving decisions that impact the town should be as open and as transparent as possible. Council chambers should be open to public access 100 per cent. The ideology of municipal governance being “we will do what is best for the people” is wrong and must be open to public consultation and input wherever possible. My philosophy is to have municipal governance where all people and all user groups are involve in the decision making process.
The residents of Deer Lake did not vote for me to do work behind closed doors or to be a “yes man.” There are times when I’ve stood alone on issues because I thought it was the best for our town. I will not support anything I feel isn’t the best for our town and residents.
My slogan is to be “a voice for the people” and if re-elected Sept. 24, I will be just that.
Having open discussions is essential. However, when the topic is sensitive or the privacy of individuals needs protection, closed doors are necessary. I am honest about my opinions on both sides of the door. If I disagree with the consensus, I say why I vote for or against motions at public meetings.
Meetings are open to everyone and the public is encouraged to attend. If appropriate, I will talk in more detail with our citizens and the press.
Transparency is the result of information being made publicly available. Whether council information is sought after by the public or not, council discussions should be made public. Briefs from regular meetings are published in both The Western Star and The Georgian. If elected, I would move that council appoint a designated spokesperson to provide a more reader-friendly summary to the media on monthly basis. All minutes of council meetings unless held for confidentiality reasons, should published on both the town’s website and Facebook page.
Many residents have little interest in public council meetings, as day-to-day activities can seem mundane, unless there is a specific concern on the table for an individual or associated group. If elected, I would motion that the town’s website be used to post agenda items for general meetings. I would also motion to compile a list of email addresses from residents who want to be informed on council business and notified of upcoming events in the Town. Transparency gains trust.
Municipalities don’t have a written policy related to transparency at council but the Act covers the way that councils should conduct their business. Councils allow citizens to attend public meetings and minutes are taken. Some confidential meetings are required and items discussed are kept confidential until it’s OK to release. I will ask questions on citizens’ behalf and will request the minutes be posted on the town’s website.
Council’s work should be as transparent as possible and this transparency can be realized through open communication. As with any organization there are instances when councils are engaged in business transactions for which information can’t initially be released for numerous reasons. However, maintaining open communication channels with residents is imperative for any council.
Elected representatives have a responsibility to ensure that they are informed and that they responsibly share accurate information with the electorate through various mediums including social media.
As Mayor, I promote and believe we have transparency and openness in Stephenville. Our residents can and have met with, staff, myself as mayor, councillors, council committees and council to discuss issues. As mayor, I encourage councillors to speak their own minds in meetings and in public, this I believe is an important role in good decision making. If re-elected I will continue to communicate through media, personal contacts, community meetings and being accessible.
Total transparency, have open town hall meetings and increase accountability.
As a public entity and not a private corporation it is the fuduciary responsibility of councils elected by the people for the people to clearly open the lines of communication to their constituents. There are times when non-disclosure agreements are sign to ensure confidentiality and in my opinion acceptable when conducting the affairs of the parties involve. The right of elected officials is that each individual has the right to speak on all issues and matters affecting their residents and community.
The current Stephenville council has no gag orders, our public meetings are open and transparent and any decisions made are open for questions form the public. This would be especially true for monies dispersed and permits and other issues that would affect our community at large. When a council decision is made and supported by a majority of councillors, then the mayor speaks on behalf of council., I would continue to support that principle and philosophy.