Friday, October 18, 2013

Councillor seeks more transparency on travel issues

Keep you eyes on the City's website, for in the near future, a new feature may debut, offering up a glimpse into the fascinating world of municipal travel expenses.

Councillor Anna Ashley offered up some thoughts on the City's travel policy at Tuesday's Council meeting,  looking for the City to post the travel guidelines that govern travel issues for the City Council.

She asked if the guidelines could be posted to the city website, so as to allow residents to learn more about what regulations are in place when it comes to travel on behalf of the City.

"I thought, if we had our travel policy on the website somewhere, it would make it easier for people to see, what our rules are in terms to travel and make it easier for people just kind of figure it out ball park it type,  as to approximately what it would cost"... Councillor Anna Ashley outlining her thoughts on the City's Travel policies and the need to post them to the city's website. 

You can review her request to council from the City's Video Archive, (October 15) it's a fairly short discussion, so don't miss it, the question and reply runs but thirty seconds, starting at the 26 minute mark.

While the posting of guidelines would be a fine start and an effort no doubt helpful to the cause of  open government and transparency, one hopes that Prince Rupert City Council doesn't stop there.

Posting the actual travel expenses in a prominent location, easily discovered by the city's residents would go a long way to providing much desired information over municipal travel and other  travel related spending concerns.

It's a process that some communities across the nation have embarked upon in recent years, though clearly some have more detailed websites than others.

A number  however feature much in the way of information readily available to the public, some of it found at but a couple of clicks of a mouse on a website.

A good example of one of the better ones can be found at the City of Toronto website which has a comprehensive reporting system, updated quarterly.

While Toronto clearly has more resources than the City of Prince Rupert, providing some kind of expense reporting system to suit our needs, shouldn't require too much of a stretch of municipal resources.

One system of reporting that some on Council may be more familiar with might be that of the BC NDP which recently started to post their expenses to their website.

That portal and the information that it provides, might serve as a helpful guide for the City to follow, if they are looking for a an easy template to start the ball rolling on expense reporting for their own website. Perhaps with the ultimate goal of providing the same level of information, as that of other municipalities in the country.

In fact, once that transparency plan is moving forward, there are many other aspects of Municipal spending that could be posted for public review.

Department spending, increases in salaries and allowances, as well as many other financial aspects of the city's government are all items that could feature more information and items that could be made more prominently available on the City's website.

Even a simple voting record on motions would be a start, allowing the city's residents and would be voters, to review where each Councillor and the Mayor stand on the issues that appear in front of them at each council session.

As it is, the archived minutes make for the final record of the council sessions and while informative, they don't always provide for the full picture of the debate or discussion.

The thoughts of more transparency and accountability have long been the thing of declaration from many politicians, but the follow through, in the way of providing access to information seems a little more convoluted it seems.

At more than one public session of late, the request for information from public participants has been met with the frequent refrain from Council that a "Freedom of Information" request should be made.

Should Council catch the transparency wave, perhaps with a bit more useful information with links to documentation posted to the city's website, the need of ordinary citizens to file the paperwork won't be required.

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