Abbotsford Fails 9 of 11 Best Practices for Open Meetings

Abbotsford Council Fails 9 of 11 BC   Ombudsperson Best Practices for Open Meetings

With all this lip service being given to transparency at City Hall I have to wonder if any of the candidates even know what it means. As far as I can tell, the records of the incumbents don’t support any semblance of transparency. Well, Henry Braun is the new kid at the table and has claimed he has pushed for more transparency but has been blocked so he should be given the benefit of doubt. Bruce Banman is also new so he could be given some leeway but there are many instances where he has not exercised the transparency that is available to him. For instance, he selected the members of the Homeless Task Force that did not include many of the care community that would have been very valuable and included some that have questionable connection to the issue. (I credit him with the selection because he took credit for the Task Force in the announcement). So I have to doubt his commitment to transparency.

What are The Legal Restrictions

First it is important to understand that The Community Charter (the CC) makes it very clear that all meetings of council (including committee meetings) must be open to the public except as provided in the CC. And that no bylaws can be passed in closed meetings. The CC does allow some things to be decided by resolution in closed meetings but the way I read it (as does the BC Ombudsperson), preference is to doing as much in public as possible.

We often hear that some items have to be discussed in closed meetings by law. I have heard reference to the three “Ls” – Legal, Labour, Land. Well, the Community Charter (the CC) doesn’t really require the three Ls to be dealt with in closed meetings.

Required Closed Meetings

In fact, there are only 5 subjects the CC requires be dealt with in closed meetings and I’ve provided a shortened version below.  I’ve tried to remove the legalese to make it more readable but in doing so I probably  have altered the legal meaning so don’t use this as legal.

  1. A request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act,
  2. Confident negotiations with the federal and/or provincial government,
  3. Investigation under the Ombudsperson Act,
  4. A matter that other legislation requires the public be excluded,
  5. Audit info for the Auditor General for Local Government Act.

As you can see the five subjects that must be discussed in closed meetings relate to rather boring subjects that would have little interest for most of us. These aren’t what I’d refer to as effecting the transparency of our Council.

Meetings that May be Closed

Most of the lack of transparency comes from an overly zealous use of the section allowing that meetings may be closed to the public. The CC provides 15 instances where council meetings MAY be closed – not that it HAS to be closed. I won’t detail them all but they include discussing items that council may not wish to disclose to the public – such as land, legal and labour.

Sometimes it make sense to not publicize the discussions: such as negotiating contracts with labour but after the contract is signed I think it would be appropriate to provide the contract info to the public. After all, if the contract is for more than $75k per annum, it has to be published in the yearly Statement of Financial Information. Purchasing land would be another instance where the public should know what land has been purchased by the City. The info is readily available to anyone with a Land Titles account.

As for legal, I think it would be appropriate to disclose who made the decisions to pursue certain courses of action. For instance, the courts recently denied the City’s motion to disallow the Drug War Survivors to represent the homeless in their case claiming wrongful eviction from Jubilee Park. The City has decided to file an appeal of this ruling but won’t reveal who authorized the appeal. I think that the public should know who authorized filing the appeal.

Current Practice of Abbotsford Council

The current practice of Abbotsford Council is to provide a notice that the meeting is to be closed and to list the sections of CC that provides for closure of the meeting. There is no information on the topic to be discussed so the public can only speculate what is being discussed.

During my research, I have discovered dozens of instances where decisions have been made in closed meetings with no record that such a resolution has been passed. I have been stymied at trying to figure out why the City has taken certain actions because the decision cannot be discussed. Some of these have been so mundane such as the purchase of land near Mill Lake Park.

Best Practices Guide

To help local governments understand and follow the principles of open government, the BC Office of the Ombudsperson produced a Best Practices Guide for Local Governments in 2012. It lists 11 Best Practices for closed meetings. I have provided a list of them below and a pass/fail grade for the Abbotsford Council.

Abbotsford Report Card

 

Best Practices (Closing a Meeting)
 
Best practices with respect to closing a meeting include:
  • using paragraph 90(1)(n) if there is reason to question whether it is necessary to close a meeting

F

  • providing as much detail as possible about the basis for closing the meeting without undermining the reason for closing the meeting

F

  • including in the resolution to close a meeting a description of each distinct matter to be discussed and the authorizing provision

F

  • reading the resolution to close a meeting aloud

P

  • stating whether council will reconvene in an open meeting at the end of the closed session

P

Best Practices (Conducting a Closed Meeting)
 
Best practices with respect to conducting a closed meeting include:
  • restricting discussion to subjects that were authorized by the resolution to close the meeting

F*

  • whenever possible, avoiding passing resolutions in closed meetings

F

  • keeping a detailed record of closed meetings

F*

Best Practices (After a Closed Meeting)
 
Best practices with respect to actions after a closed meeting include:
  • complying with the provisions of FIPPA

F

  • establishing a process and assigning responsibility to specific staff for reviewing and releasing minutes of closed meetings and related information no longer requiring confidentiality

F

  • releasing as much information as possible as often as possible once confidentiality is no longer required

F

Note

The principles of open government require that information is readily available to the public. Thus I have given council an F* if I do not know whether they are following the Best Practice.

These Best Practices were published in September 2012. Council has had 2 years to implement these practice and yet has failed to do so. These practices don’t only apply to council meetings but also to committee meetings and from my experience committee meetings would fail  all 11 of the Best Practices.

My Resolution

When elected, the first motion I will put before council will be to enact all 11 Best Practices for council and its committees.

Abby News Candidate Profile

Abbotsford News asked candidates to complete a questionnaire. Our answers were published on their website and in last Friday’s newspaper. However, my answers aren’t accessible on the mobile version of their website and the published version edited the questions and responses. I am posting the original questions and my responses here.

ABBY NEWS CANDIDATE PROFILE

Name: David Sahlstrom

Party affiliation (if any):

Education: Bachelor of Science in Agriculture – BSc(Agr), Master of Business Adminstration – MBA, Professional Agrologist (PAg)

Occupation: Partner in Everett House Bed & Breakfast, Sahlstrom & Associate Business Consulting and David Sahlstrom Consulting (Chief cook and bottlewasher, Business Management Consultant, Environmental Agrologist)

Previous political experience: None

Residency (city/neighbourhood): Everett Rd, Abbotsford

Community involvement: MSA Museum Society, Arts Council, donated to various community groups, worked on the HST repeal referendum.

Marital status/children: Married with 3 children

Contact phone number: 604-309-6301

Email: David@DavidSahlstrom.ca

Social media: www.DavidSahlstrom.ca, Facebook/David Sahlstrom

Please answer the following question as briefly as possible, not exceeding one sentence.

What do you feel are the three key issues Abbotsford voters should be considering in this civic election?
  1. Voters should consider how the candidates will support their own vision and dreams for Abbotsford such as the level of taxation and user fees, growth and development, protection of the environment, caring for the poor and needy, provision of services, and the support and empowerment of the various communities in Abbotsford.
  2. Voters should ask themselves why they should vote for incumbents who have supported various initiatives that the voters have rejected such as Plan A, The Heat, Stave Lake Water, YMCA, etc.
  3. Voters should consider the qualifications of the candidates to carry out the responsibilities of Councillor in critically examining the issues, evaluating them with respect to the responsibilities of local government and the vision they hold for the future of Abbotsford.

Please answer the following questions in no more than 300 words in total.

What’s your plan to deal with homelessness in Abbotsford?

I would work with the other members of council to develop a plan with my recommendations being:

  • Re-examining the decision to hire a Homeless Coordinator as the City has no experience or expertise in this area.
  • Striking a homeless committee that included homeless representatives, the care communities and provincial and federal agencies with the terms of reference to coordinate the work and that the City provide assistance to this committee.
  • Until adequate housing supply is provided, we need to provide a location where the homeless could camp and engage the care communities to provide services to it.
  • Instruct the APD to end their policy of dislocating and dispersing while maintaining law enforcement.

Until we as a society can provide the needs of this marginalized community, we should not discriminate or harass them.

How would you make city hall more accountable and transparent?

I would move to:

  • hold all meetings in public to release to the public all decisions and discussions that are allowed by law,
  • record council committee meetings making them available to the public – possibly as podcasts or video.
  • restructure the committees so that they are more accessible to the public with City staff supplying more of a support role.

I will, whenever legal, discuss the issues in public and make known the reasons supporting my votes.

Are changes required in local municipal spending? If so, what are they and how would you address them?

Abbotsford spends money in many areas that are not part of the core responsibilities of local government and we need to examine bylaws, programs and spending to determine how they align with our responsibilities as well as examining not only immediate costs but the long term benefits and liabilities.

As residents of Abbotsford we shouldn’t be paying for the costs of development. There is good development and bad development and we should learn to tell the difference so we can say no to the bad development.

We need to engage, support and empower the communities in our City – the Business, Arts, Culture, Heritage, Care, Social, Environment etc. to enhance our quality of life.

Arts, Culture and Heritage

The Arts Council recently asked candidates to answer the question

What would I do to support arts, culture and heritage in Abbotsford?

Following is my answer.

I believe that our communities are one of the strongest assets of Abbotsford and these include the arts, culture and heritage communities. It is these communities, comprised of our residents who are passionate, giving and so capable, that can accomplish so much good for our City.

I believe that we need to engage, support and empower our communities so that they can realize their contributions to our City. First I will work engage the communities in a real and meaningful way to create a framework that works for them. I will work towards having the City support this framework. For too long, the communities have been used as a support for City Hall often with their hard work and passion disappearing into brick tower. I believe this needs to change. I will then work to empower the communities so they can realize their contribution. This means that the communities will be given the responsibility and authority they need.

I realize many of you may be thinking “This sounds really good but what does this mean in reality.” What it looks like is first dependent on participation by the rest of council (so be careful whom you vote for) and what framework the communities create during the engagement. Here are some of what I would support.

Heritage

Moving the responsibility for heritage protection to the Planning department. Development (and demolition) should be required to provide a heritage assessment as part of their application. These assessments should be done by the heritage community and the MSA Museum Society.

Public Art

Creating a community committee as part of the Abbotsford Arts Council to define a public art policy and be responsible for selection of public art.

Abbotsford Cultural Centre

Moving to putting it under a community elected board with greater access by cultural groups. The Abbotsford Cultural Centre is currently managed by the Reach Society under a contract that expired last spring. The Society’s constitution states that all directors are appointed by the City and it’s management contract requires all members be appointed by the City.

Performing Arts

Providing seed funding and support for a black box theatre with the theatre placed under the management of a society for performing arts.

Discovery Centre

The creation of Discovery Centre that celebrates our heritage. More tourists include heritage in their travel activities that any other activity except shopping. It would be a great attraction to our City.

Commercial Venues

More commercial venues for music and entertainment are needed. Restrictive bylaws need to be amended so that we have more opportunities play.

The City identified about $1.6mil in culture funding last year. About $895k for interest and amortization on the Abbotsford Cultural Centre, $625k for the Reach Society, $50k for salaries leaving about $100 to fund other culture activities. I believe this need to be adjusted to be more equitable.

Abbotsford can only become a vibrant City if we have a more vibrant cultural community. The businesses many candidates state they would like to attract to Abbotsford are looking for communities with active cultural communities. I believe it is Council’s responsibility to provide the opportunities for culture to thrive and under my proposal to engage, support and empower, the future is yours to define.

Environmentalism

 

I participated in the all Chamber of Commerce All Candidates Forum this past week . I found it interesting and in a strange way kind of enjoyable. Being an environmental scientist, I couldn’t help but rebut some of the mis-information that the environmental community likes to promote. I’d like to discuss this so you don’t get the wrong idea.  My wife Cindy calls me a non-radical environmentalist.

Let me give a little background on who I am and what I have done. Some of this is on other pages but to make it easier for you I will retell it here.  I generally don’t like to promote myself like this.

In the late ’70s I earned my BSc(Agr) from UBC. Much of my career I worked for an environmental company and I continued to work for it until 2003 when I went out on my own. During this period of time I/we were instrumental in developing many solutions for environmental protection and restoration .

Erosion and Sediment Control

In the mid-eighties after years of treating erosion and sediment control at the request of developers on an ad hoc basis, we developed the first Erosion and Sediment Control Plan in BC. It was actually for the Cedarsprings Development here in Abbotsford and was designed to protect the fisheries values of Clayburn Creek. Canada Department of Fisheries and Oceans liked it so much, they used it almost verbatim in their “Land Development Guidelines for the Protection of Aquatic Habitat”.

Because sediment is so detrimental to the environment, we developed a process to control sediment production on land development sites. The process is so effective it will actually remove sediment from rainfall runoff water. One of our trial sites was the Bateman Properties development here in Abbotsford. I remember looking at “mudpuddles” on the site and seeing no mud; just clear rainwater. (I’m still trying to figure out what to call these.) This type of treatment is now used on many development sites.

Forest Rehabilitation

During the early eighties, forest companies saw a problem with the impact some of their harvesting techniques were having on the environment and they hired us to develop and implement techniques to mitigate the impacts and rehabilitate these areas.  This began years before the Environmental Movement saw this as a cause. During their anti-logging campaigns I often remarked that they either didn’t know I existed or that they refused to acknowledge me because it would be bad for their environmentalism.

In the mid-eighties, we were concerned with the increasing incidences of landslides and debris torrents in the forest industries and how to prioritize them so we developed a method of assessment on a watershed basis. This method formed the foundation of the BC Ministry of Forests Watershed Restoration Program (WRP) in the nineties.

During the WRP, one of the watersheds I conducted assessment of was the Norrish Creek watershed from which Abbotsford draws some of its water so I am very familiar with it and its stability issues. As a side note, much of the turbidity issues is a result of unstable creek banks upstream of the intake.

During the nineties, I developed landslide rehabilitation techniques for the Ministry of Forests as well as a short course that I taught throughout the province.

Award for Outstanding Contribution to Forest Rehabilitation

I was the charter recipient of the Award For Outstanding Contribution to Forest Rehabilitation in 1996 by the Coastal Forest Site Rehabilitation Committee. During the presentation, the presenter commented that over the years he and I had had a number of scientific disagreements and he had to admit that I was right once my arguments were considered.

Waste Management

During the late eighties, waste management was becoming an issue and I became involved in finding and developing solutions. During this time I researched MRFs which are now the talk of our waste management plan. I discovered there were technologies that could extract so many of the valuable recyclable materials from our waste stream and ways to compost the 70% or so of our waste that is organic. I worked to get our municipalities and regional districts to adopt these technologies but was stymied by their inflexible mindset. I now find it interesting that they are “discovering” and employing  these technologies that they were so resistant to. But there is still the inflexible mindset.

Beneficial use of Biosolids

I worked with the GVRD in developing beneficial uses for their biosolids (the sludge extracted from our sewer water). Part of the work included the reclamation and greening of the tailings piles just east (north) of Princeton. What had been sand piles for years (since the late 1950s) are now  green treed and grassed slopes . The work I did formed the foundation  for their Nutrifor program which is used for mine reclamation in the interior of BC.

I participated in the BC Ministry of Environment  Technical Review Committee that resulted in the BC Organic Matter Recycling Program. This regulation sets the standards that composting must achieve to kill off the potential pathogen problems.

Land Reclamation

Over the years, I have participated in the reclamation of various types of land disturbances. Following are pictures from a closed mine tailings project where I have been guiding the reclamation.

 Why Did I Say All This?

All this Environmental Stuff is my career and passion. I have vigorously pursued solutions to environmental problems throughout my life. I have gone to work on problems before Greenpeace, Western Canada Wilderness Committee, Forest Ethics or any of the other groups promoting environmentalism.

The difference between their environmentalism and me is that it’s their business to create issues and mine is to solve problems. Their objective is to get on national news so that their contributions increase and mine is to apply scientific principles to solve problems. They are driven by environmentalism dogma and I don’t follow a dogma but am continuously looking for new ideas and scrutinizing my currently held beliefs for errors.

It is from this perspective that my comments came from. Not from an ill informed denier or industrial redneck but from an active practicing environmentalist.