St. Mary’s expands public access to council meetings

New rules make audio recordings of proceedings mandatory

By Alec Bruce, Local Journalism Initiative reporter    
November 11 2020

ST. MARY’S – The Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s council finally buried one of their peskier bones of contention last week by unanimously approving audio recordings of their public meetings, effective immediately.

The move, which came at their Nov. 4 committee of the whole meeting, reestablishes electronic access – introduced in March and subsequently dropped ­– to proceedings not held in-camera to members of the public unwilling or unable to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The inconsistency over the past several months had caused concern – both on council and in the district – among people who urged public officials to make audio and, when possible, live-streaming video recordings a permanent feature of local government.

Councilor Charlene Zinck, who defeated former District 2 councillor and warden Michael Mosher in the most recent municipal election, made the motion, which was seconded by District 6 councillor and Deputy Warden James Fuller.

In the run-up to the election, Zinck told The Journal, “I feel meetings should be recorded for members of the public. We are there working for them, so everything should be transparent and open.”

In an interview last week, District 3/5 councillor, Warden Greg Wier, echoed those sentiments.

“Personally, I think it’s a wonderful idea,” he said. “Inclusion and transparency are important parts of running a council. There is no other way to be – particularly now when we are restricted by the number of people that we can let into chambers because of COVID-19.

“We were absolutely going to deal with it. It wasn’t taken away from council. It was always going to be brought forward to the new council,” Wier added.

Former District 3/5 Councillor Kaytland Smith, who did not reoffer in the most recent election, had been a vocal proponent of the concept.

Other residents also endorsed the idea.

“Meeting recordings was something I had raised as a concern to [Kaytland] Smith,” Tim Sawlor of Sherbrooke told The Journal in September.

“For a council that had previously stated they wanted to increase transparency and public involvement; that would be an easy win, in my opinion, after the temporary changes that the pandemic caused.”

While nothing in the Municipal Government Act actually stipulates how municipalities share their official news with citizens, the province does impose the burden of public access on local councils.

According to St. Mary’s chief administrative officer Marvin MacDonald, staff members are now handling the details of the change.

“We’re looking into equipment needs,” he said. “We are going to have to buy audio equipment and explore how we are going to upload to our system, to our web page.”

Both MacDonald and Wier said that, while live-streaming video could be next, the cost and state of Internet connectivity in the district currently makes the technology unworkable.