Thursday, January 28, 2016

Questions on funding issues point to need for easier access to Civic information

An interesting bit of discussion on how much information the city provides to the community, came up as part of the public comment session of Monday's Council session.

And from some of the observations found on the night, it might be suggested that there is a desire from the city's residents to have better access to information on such areas of interest as the City's Legacy Fund and other segments of public spending by our elected officials.

As part of the Committee of the Whole session Monday a number of residents took to the microphone to outline their concerns over the recent cuts to the Library funding, during the course of that one hour overview, one participant expanded his inquiries towards some concerns related to the City's Legacy Fund and some of the other spending initiatives that Council has taken on over the last year.

Mayor Brain spoke to a number of items
related to the Legacy Fund and other
spending issues on Monday night
The way that those topics were presented, resulted in a bit of push back from the Mayor, who expressed frustration with the tone and the method of approach to some of the questions.

Noting that in the case of the Legacy Corporation funding there is information available on the city's website as to how the city makes use of that money and to where it has been directed.

As well, on the theme of spending on civic initiatives, or travel, the Mayor and City Manager noted that the process of approval had changed over the years and that there is no longer any requirement to hold a public vote on some spending requests.

As a way to bring that segment of the discussion to a close, City Manager Robert Long suggested that the resident would be welcome to take as fine a tooth comb as he has to the city's information, seeming to suggest that digging deep into the past minutes and budget reports might deliver some of the answers that he was seeking.

And while that is one option, a better approach and one which might be welcomed by the residents of the city would be to make that information more easily accessible on the city's website.

When it comes to the Legacy Corporation, the Mayor is correct in noting that there is information on the city website regarding the formation of Legacy Corp.

However when it comes to a review of the full details and other items that might be of interest regarding that city instrument, the offering is rudimentary at best.

The current information portal provides mainly a listing of the Articles of Incorporation and not much more. Leaving anyone trying to find anything else out about the city's use of the fund, to have to drill deep into the agendas, minutes and other documents that the city posts on its website.

What isn't available at the moment for residents is a one stop reading kind of presentation. Providing a breakdown as to where the funds that have been received have been allocated and what projects they have been put towards, whether it be sidewalk repair, major infrastructure or other council projects.

Currently it seems that any information on Legacy Fund is lumped into the Council initiative known as planning for Major Projects, with little indication as to just what the city's residents are getting from their investment and what council has decided the money should be used for.

"The City is taking a hard look at the infrastructure deficit and coupling it with the impact from Major Projects. Planning is of the utmost priority for Council to ensure our City can be a model for how to successfully host large industrial growth. Maximizing the benefits of possible change while mitigating as much of the negative impacts will require additional resources. The City’s wholly owned subsidiary Legacy Inc. will contribute towards this additional cost with no impact to the taxpayers over the planned four year time frame that the Planning for Major Projects Budget has undertaken." -- From the Conclusion to the Spring 2015 Community Update

Considering the range of LNG Go Plans, Vision Statements and other civic initiatives of the last year such as the Re:Build Rupert updates it probably shouldn't be too hard to provide a similar style of visual display that shows clearly and effectively for the community, just how the City is spending the money received through the Legacy Fund.

And while they're on that theme of disclosure, offering up a montly spending report on Council activities, whether they be from out of town travel, reflecting in town workshops or other such kinds of activities, probably would be a welcome addition to the flow of information for the public as well.

Those are concepts that other communities have explored with some success, providing reports and information outlines to their civic websites.

With such information in hand, the city's residents might even be able to help City Council when it comes to the Budget Consultation process later this Spring.

Using the information to offer suggestions at to what priorities that the city's residents might have for the fund, something that could be helpful in Council's search for that sixty six thousand dollar takeaway from the Library.

The theme of making better use of the Legacy Fund was the topic of this letter in the weekly newspaper this week, with the author also listing some concerns over how the money from the fund is being used.

As was noted by Councillor Cunningham in early January, "The Legacy Fund is owned by the people of this town, it is the residents money, as well as the council's money" which was a sentiment reprised in the letter to the paper yesterday.

It would seem that through the comments from the Public comment session at Council, or by way of a letter to the opinion page of the paper, that all that folks in Prince Rupert seem to want to know, is how the fund is being used.

Allowing them to shape their opinions when it comes to whether the City is making the right decisions when it comes to that spending.

The city's residents really shouldn't have to take that fine tooth comb to explore a range of Council minutes and documents, City Council should be making sure that the information that the public wants and deserves to have access to, is as easy to find as possible.

The discussion on the topic of the Legacy Fund from Monday night can be reviewed on the City's Video Archive, it starts at the thrity nine minute mark and continues for about ten minutes.

We have more background on the Legacy Fund available here, while a wider overview of Council topics can be found on our Council Discussion Archive page.

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