Democracy and Transparency are too Expensive

Ron Bolin: June18, 2012

I present below a delegation made to Council sitting as the Committee of the Whole this afternoon.  It was the very first of these meetings which was captured on video and by the time you read this, it should be available on the City’s web site (Shaw apparently was not interested in showing it live).  I urge you all to view it all, but recommend particular attention to the discussion of Video Recording Capability in the Annex Replacement Meeting Room, item 7 (e).  You will get an idea of Council’s views on the importance of your right to view the meetings which they get paid to attend and how they view citizens as participants in the democratic process.  Democracy has some strong defenders, some wishy-washy and some who appear to think that the public should be kept far away from their game.  As for who is who, I leave it to you.

For the record, the final vote on a much amended motion was six for not adding the video equipment, but for “roughing in” the wiring.  ( I would have considered that part of the video equipment, but I guess I am naive.)  One Councillor left the Chamber for unknown reasons and didn’t return until the inevitable in camera meeting began.

Watch for yourself and take the action which you feel is appropriate.  We would certainly like your comments here.

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Mayor Ruttan and Councillors:

You find yourselves faced tonight with a Staff recommendation that “video equipment not be added to the new Annex meeting room.” In the absence of any alternative, this is really code for saying that citizens will not be granted the ability to see their Council in action on items dealing with our finances and policies in Council’s Committee of the Whole meetings unless they come to the small board room in the new annex at an inopportune time of the day to see them in person.  Is this the message that you wish to send to our citizens and taxpayers?

Staff advises that the video recording equipment necessary to perform this function in the new Annex will cost between $58,000 and $95,000.  While professional video producers have advised me that these figures may be high, I will speak tonight to the figure of $58,000 which has been presented as adequate by Staff.  While this sounds like a lot of money, let’s examine what it represents.  To begin with this equipment will not need to be replaced annually, but should have at least a five year life.  This brings the figure to $11,600 per annum.  Furthermore as there are about 20 Committee of the Whole meetings in a year, the cost per meeting reduces to about $580 per meeting, if no other use is made of it than the Committee of the Whole.  If we then look at the cost per potential viewer per meeting we find that we are talking in pennies.  Is our right to view and partake in the democratic process in Nanaimo so insignificant that we must begrudge this amount when the City of Nanaimo 2012 – 2016 Financial Plan, shows expenditures of over $160 million this year and nearly $171.5 million next year?

A number of the reports which appear on this afternoon’s agenda are representative of the financial nature of the Committee of the Whole meetings.  Among them, we can see that more than the $11,600 per annum asset cost of keeping citizens informed is to be given in the first round of Community Service Grants this year.  Similarly over $58,000 is reported as having been reimbursed to Council in expenses last year.  Moreover the Annual Report notes that Council gave approximately $1.3 million in permissive property tax exemptions last year.  Is democracy and transparency of so much less value?  I ask that you defeat Staff’s recommendation and implement video capability in the new Annex meeting room or find an alternative which will achieve this same end.

Thank You for your consideration.

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