What’s going on behind the regional district’s closed doors?

The resignation of director Doug McLeod begs the question

Mere weeks before his term of office expires, Lakelse Lake’s Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine’s Area C director, Doug McLeod, has resigned in frustration. He feels unable to serve his constituents as he promised when he stood for election, thanks to a wall of opposition to his motions.

His top complaint is the secrecy maintained around so many topics dealt with in-camera. Board secrecy has become so pervasive public meetings are censored until they cannot happen. A media report of the board’s August 8, 2014 meeting highlights how the board’s excessive in-camera secrecy hobbles its deliberations: “Non public information muddles RDKS motion on MK Bay Marina” reads the headline.

Seeking more public input before the board decides whether to sell the marina or continue owning it, McLeod moved that a referendum be held. He noted while the public owns the facility, all debate has been going on behind the scenes, including a study paid for by taxpayers.

His motion ran aground when so many key words had to be avoided so as to maintain in-camera secrecy. Picture Mom and Dad trying to plan a Santa visit while innocent little ears tune in.

“Later in the meeting, Director Phil Germuth put forward a notice of motion that the people of Kitimat be consulted on the future of the marina. However, the board thought this relevant information could not be presented to the public because of it’s in-camera nature.”

The board could freely discuss the marina’s future – and other sensitive topics – if it shared more in-camera details with the public after the need for secrecy had passed.

Quoting the Ombudsperson’s Best Practices Act for Local Governments 2012,

“Many subjects requiring the confidentiality of a closed meeting only require it for a limited period of time. Information that would no longer undermine the reason for discussing it in a closed meeting should be released as soon as practicable.

“If it is not appropriate to release all information related to a closed meeting, it may be preferable to release incomplete information rather than to wait for a time when it will eventually be proper to release all the information. Local governments should strive to release as much information as possible as often as possible, in order to demonstrate their commitment to the principles of transparency and accountability and to receive the benefit of a more informed, engaged and trusting public.”

The RDKS feels above any need for public input. They make no effort to inform or engage the public. Not until  they’ve decided on their course of action do they ask for our input. Chances are we never receive word of survey results.

“We’ve yet to learn the results of the Thornhill Active Transportation Plan survey reported June 18, accepted by the board and referred to staff for use as a guide to active transportation planning within Thornhill, its policy directions and recommendations to be considered for implementation.” So say meeting minutes.

The RDKS skirts this section of the guide. Meeting minutes tell us only if motions were Carried or Defeated. Subjects discussed in-camera are referred to by number-letter combinations which tell us only if the topic was land, personnel, or some other legal topic. And media coverage of board meetings is as rare as a super moon.

Our news from RDKS meetings is more apt to come from chance chats with an elected representative.

This resignation, signifying as it does dissatisfaction with the way the RDKS board and administration conducts the public’s business, will only make the search for an elected slate that much more uncertain come November.

Finding anyone willing to stand for election is always tough. To find someone qualified, eager, and in favour of democracy and transparency is a taller order.