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Citizens see red over idea of fee for recording of council meeting

In Council Watch
May 12th, 2019
Mayor Basil Clarke

Ramara Mayor Basil Clarke favours $50 charge. 

Concerned Citizens of Ramara upset about potential of fee; ‘Only offering audio is not providing good service or transparency’

Letter to Orillia Matters from Mike Douglas & Anna Bourgeois
Concerned Citizens of Ramara

Ramara Township Council is considering a very disappointing course of action.

At the Ramara Township committee of the whole (COW) council meeting on Monday, May 6, the agenda contained a report regarding amendments to the fees and charges bylaw.

The objectionable addition to this bylaw is as follows:
“Over the past year or so, we have received a number of requests for audio recordings for meetings and there is nothing in our bylaw to authorize charging a fee for this service. We are recommending a $5 fee for each meeting recording. The requester must provide their own memory stick.”

During the council discussions that took place regarding this charge for council meeting audio recordings, various council members were quick to justify a fee, varying from the suggested $5 fee to $20 and the highest suggestion of $50 came from the Ramara Township Mayor Basil Clarke.

This information can be verified by referring to the audio recording of the Monday, May 6 COW council meeting for a fee to Ramara Township of $5.

The COW decision does not come into effect until it is ratified – it is on the council agenda for ratification Monday, May 13.

The charging for access to recordings of council meetings should not be tolerated. In this day and age, this is a way for councils to keep residents updated on what they’re up to.

It is preferable to see residents at council meetings, however there are always extenuating circumstances that must be adequately addressed such as people with hearing impairments, physical disabilities limiting travel or eliminating the need for travelling distances in bad weather.

One can also argue that it’s environmentally preferable not to have residents drive to attend municipal council meetings. There is, of course, the obvious opportunity to have instantly recorded information of what has transpired during council proceedings that is also archivable.

Councils that live-stream are councils that are comfortable with their decision-making process and willing to explain what they have done and why.

Councils that throw up barriers to citizens getting information about what their elected officials are doing are sending a message that they have something to hide, and that they have little respect for the citizens.

Openness, accountability, and honesty define transparency.

In a free society, transparency is government’s obligation to share information with citizens. It is at the heart of how citizens hold their public officials accountable.

Gaining access to meeting information is one way of allowing citizens a way of seeing council, their representatives in action.

Council meetings must be open to the public. They engage a wide audience and provide information on what is going on in the community. Public meetings are important, as they are a way to discuss issues, provide a way for people to share their concerns, hear other points of view and identify areas of conflict.

When done well, they develop community, provide a common vision, make the municipality a place where people want to live, work and play.

There are many reasons a person may want to listen to an audio recording.

Some work during the time that the meetings take place, or they have some other obligations that don’t allow them to attend in person, or simply, they do not have transportation to get them to the meetings.

Perhaps more people would become more involved in their community if they had the opportunity to freely access the information.

The majority of municipalities in Ontario do not charge a fee for audio recordings. In fact, most offer live streaming via Rogers and YouTube access to council meetings at no cost.

The question is, why does Ramara Township want to charge the public a fee for audio recordings? This is not a fax, this is not a photocopy of a document. This is information that should be readily available to the taxpayer, who is already paying the municipality for the services they receive.

The audio recordings are an avenue of equal access for the public and also have the potential of moderating and emphasizing accountability on the part of the council members; this is all good.

Although the time required depends on the overall content of the council meeting the staff time to disseminate and upload to the Ramara Township website should be approximately 15 to 20 minutes per council meeting, if that.

Almost every council in Simcoe County has live stream of their meetings . Only offering audio is not providing good service or transparency.

3 Responses to “Citizens see red over idea of fee for recording of council meeting”

  1. A Bourgeois says:

    I would like to add that at the Ramara Township COW meeting on Monday May 6th, the councillor for Ward 1 asked if it was feasible for the audio be available for no cost on the Ramara.ca website at no cost. I certainly hope that council will go this route or even live-stream, as I would be interested in being able to view the meetings from my computer. It will save me money on fuel, and I do not have to interrupt my work in order to be up to date on what council is dealing with on a regular basis.

  2. Catharine says:

    There is no way that municipal information and council meeting information should incur a fee. Minutes to meetings, public meeting information, and all council business should be a privilege of belonging to the community and paying taxes. Council members owe their people transparency and should be glad to provide information, thanking them for taking an interest in their community!

  3. Ann says:

    At their council meeting last night, Ramara Council voted unanimously to make the audio taping of their council meetings available free of charge on their township website.

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