Vote tracking, a lobbyist registry, and a town mobile app are on the list of changes suggested for improving transparency at town hall.
In a report to the Strategic Initiatives Committee on July 9, Clerk Sara Almas identified those and other changes as recommendations from part two of town staff’s accountability and transparency review.
According to Almas, the service currently used to manage agendas and town meetings –a program called iCompass – also includes technology for tracking council or committee member voting and attendance records. Almas said councillors could start voting both physically in the meeting by raising a hand as usual and also via an electronic system (on a computer, tablet or through the microphones). Those votes would be kept in a database as a record of each councillor’s voting practices and will be accessible to the public. The database could also include attendance information for each member of council.
Almas recommended council pass a motion to allow iCompass and the town’s IT department to create a system to implement in time for the new council term.
The IT department is also part of Almas’ recommendation for enhanced community outreach in the form of a mobile app. The app would be free to download for anyone with a smartphone or tablet and would be capable of sending push notifications to app users for things like emergencies, road closures, waste pick-up changes, and town events. The annual fee to the town is estimated at $5,000 according to Almas. She suggested council direct staff to further investigate the app and link it to the new website, which is under development now.
Almas’ report also indicated a lobbyist registry would enhance accountability by providing information to the public on who is communicating with those in public office. Almas said staff would further consider the implementation of a lobbyist registry through an organizational realignment review currently underway at town hall.
Regarding in camera meetings, Almas said advice from lawyers suggested the current system for closed session meetings stand, but that council and staff make it clear that all matters for discussion in closed session have been vetted and found to fit in with the requirements of the Municipal Act for closed-door meetings. She also said it’s important to note no decisions on municipal business impacting ratepayers can be made in closed session.
Finally, Almas noted the town’s accountability and transparency policy, last updated in 2013, needs a review. She said staff could finalize the 2018 policy soon for council’s consideration.
In addition to those five enhancements, Almas suggested addressing some further updates or gaps in the town’s accountability system during 2019 budget discussions, including the addition of an in-house lawyer for legal counsel, appointing a municipal ombudsman (for issues of conduct) and appointing a municipal auditor general (for issues of financial stewardship).
The standing committee approved Almas’ report and recommendations, which will now go to council for final approval at tomorrow’s meeting (June 12). The special council meeting begins at 2 p.m. in the town hall council chambers.
Collingwood council has implemented several changes since 2015 in the name of transparency and accountability, some of which include:
- Live-streaming all council and standing committee meetings
- Appointing a joint integrity commissioner via a partnership with the County of Simcoe
- Assigning an alternate County Council representative when the Mayor or Deputy Mayor cannot attend a meeting
- Enhanced community outreach through a new meeting portal, newsletter subscription, social media, media releases, enhanced media relations, a corporate communications protocol, council highlights email, mailing lists for special projects and a focus on community engagement.
- Increased financial reporting to include quarterly financial statements and variance reporting and annual statement of reserve funds
- Performance management and measurement systems