Saturday, April 2, 2011

Don't let Council scrap detailed minutes on April 5!

I received a communiqué today that the City of Ottawa's Finance and Economic Development Committee will consider eliminating detailed minutes for Council and Committee meetings at the City of Ottawa. The FEDCO agenda is here:

This idea was first floated a couple of years ago as a cost-saving measure during the perennial budget 'crisis' by then-councillor Rob Jellett--ironically a former journalist.

I sent the following comments to Council tonight, and I encourage you to also.

Dear members of Ottawa City Council,

I am very troubled to hear of the proposal for the April 5, 2011
Finance and Economic Development Committee (FEDCO) meeting
to stop taking detailed minutes of Council and Committee meetings, in
favour of archived web and audiocasts. While I strongly favour live
audio/webcasts to allow people to participate in-the-moment from afar,
it should not be at the expense of written minutes.

Most of you were volunteers of some sort prior to joining City Council
and appreciate the effort spent by volunteers to prepare for
delegations to Council and its committees. Members of community groups
like the CCCA put dozens of hours into volunteering to prepare
well-considered input to the City's decision-making process, through
written submissions, participation in public consultations, advisory
committees, public advisory committees, and more. In the 1970s, the
City recognized the magnitude of these efforts by providing staff and
funding to community groups to coordinate this input by members of
their respective communities. Now it must be done by volunteers alone,
in an age where people have less free time.

Information from written minutes can be searched through online,
whereas audio/webcasts cannot. By eliminating detailed minutes, these
volunteers will be further burdened with having to listen through
hours of audio to find and transcribe the information they need.
Inquiries to staff will also increase because this information will no
longer be easy to find, and staff will require more time to listen
through the audiocasts in order to find the answers to inquiries and
to research policy.

Let me give you some examples of where detailed minutes come in handy:

* In 2008, the Ottawa Sun published a front-page article suggesting
that City Council wasted $600,000 on a paramedic post on Catherine
Street only for it to be replaced by another one as part of a
non-profit housing development on the iste. That night, I was able to
pore through the detailed minutes from when those decisions were made
and was able to demonstrate that Council could not have known of any
of the factors that contributed to that housing development being
possible. I wrote it up on my blog at the time:

* In the early 1990s, City Council approved a Development Charge
freeze for Centretown which is expiring this August. Thanks to the
detailed minutes kept by the City of Ottawa and the former RMOC, I was
able to learn not only when this freeze was established, but the
context surrounding it.

The bus strike of 2008-2009 reminded us of how easily the City of
Ottawa forgets its corporate history; many of the policies debated
during that dispute were implemented following record-low morale a
decade prior.

They say that those who don't study history are destined to live by
it. Please let Council meetings still be recorded in a searchable
format so that it can still be studied!


Charles Akben-Marchand

[Look for more one-photo posts under the label Singles]

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