City of Nanaimo set to release in-camera information

NANAIMO – The city aims to be more transparent with the release of in-camera meeting documents, ranging from agendas to voting records.

Nanaimo city officials are set to release in camera documents, giving residents their first look into closed-door meetings.

The City of Nanaimo is set to unveil the first wave of in camera information this month – the start of a new effort to be more open and transparent about decisions made behind closed doors.

Agendas, reports, minutes and votes from in camera meetings will be backdated from 2010 to the present. Under the new policy, city councillors will also regularly discuss the timing of documents’ release and city staff members anticipate quarterly reviews with council to consider whether items still under the curtain of in camera meetings should be brought forward.

Not all information is expected to be revealed right away, including land transaction issues and third-party involvements. City staff members also plan to black out parts of agendas and minutes they believe are subject to Freedom of Information requests.

An estimated five per cent of the information will be redacted.

Despite the limitations, city officials say the move is anticipated to reduce internal ‘leaks’ of confidential information and rebuild the public’s trust in the municipality. Mayor John Ruttan vows any information that no longer needs to be protected, will be released.

“I think what we will be doing [now] is releasing every bit of information that can be released, whereas in the past it sort of just mounted up on the shelves and never went anywhere,” he said.

“Maybe we in council were negligent in not having a proper policy … but there is one now.”

Nanaimo city council decided last May to release in camera information and voting records on a regular basis in an effort to diffuse negative talks of city secrecy and meet citizen calls for greater government transparency. The policy is insurance to people that information will be released in a more timely manner, said Ruttan, adding the new initiative is ‘the right thing to do.’

“Instead of saying will this be released, you will be able to ask the question from the media, when will it be released?” he said.

Nanaimo city council decided to backdate the information until 2010. Ruttan said it made sense to present three years of information instead of starting the information flow in 2013. People are curious about issues in the past and items discussed three years ago, like the Colliery dams, continue to be active today, he said.

City watcher Ron Bolin applauds the new policy, which he said has been a longtime coming. He hopes it improves the public’s trust in city hall.

However, Bolin still has questions about the release of information, including whether the city plans to list all in camera meetings online so citizens can monitor which information has yet to be released. He is also planning to watch for how much information the city redacts and the kind of documents it releases. If it’s information that is ‘totally innocuous,’ like appointments, the city could continue to breed mistrust, he said.

“From what I’ve read it seems to be a worthwhile move and a necessary move for any transparent government,” he said.

Nanaimo city council will decide when in camera information will be released and city staff will post it online. The 2010 material is expected to be on the city website within the next two weeks.