Transparency motion quashed
Though financial information about City of Prince George expenditures will be easier to find on the website, council decided not to proceed with motions forwarded by councillors Brian Skakun and Garth Frizzell asking the city to adopt a financial reporting strategy similar to Quesnel and to consider the proactive disclosure of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and responses.
A report brought back to council from the financial and audit committee, chaired by Coun. Cameron Stolz, discussed the implications in time and money that would be utilized to make the change.
Currently the city meets the Community Charter standard, which requires the reporting of payments for suppliers of goods or services within six months after a municipality’s year end, which is Dec. 31.
If the amount paid out is more than $25,000 during a fiscal year, the municipality must list the name of the individual, firm or corporation and the aggregate amount paid.
At the end of the report, a municipality must list the consolidated total to suppliers paid $25,000 or less.
Specific information means making a special request to the city which entails a FOI request. Those requests are looked at by the corporate officer, and if the information can be released it is.
Kathleen Soltis, director with corporate services in the city, said it would take between 64 and 90 hours a year to enact a system similar to Quesnel’s, and that doesn’t include the time it would take to proactively deal with FOI requests, which would still need to be scrutinized to ensure private information isn’t disclosed.
“The City of Quesnel has managed to do this. In my opinion we need to meet more than the minimum standard. Compared to what Quesnel does, this falls quite short,” Skakun said.
Skakun said he has talked with representatives form Quesnel and they post all their expenditures on the agenda, breaking them down into categories. He added each expenditure made by the city should be defensible and the current practice doesn’t go far enough.
“Every expenditure is defensible at the city,” Mayor Shari Green, who joined the council meeting on Monday electronically, said.
“I don’t think we should burden the city staff with more than what they are doing,” Coun. Albert Koehler said. “I don’t think we should do more than the city charter requires.”
Frizzell expressed an interest in the cost of FOI inquiries to the city, however that number was not available in the financial committee’s report. He said he was curious if there was a financial argument supporting being proactive with those kind of requests, in that it might actually be less costly than the process of a FOI request.
Green pointed out the public has two ways to go when seeking information. An FOI, she agreed, is very formal and somewhat challenging. However, she said, someone from the public could simply ask for the information.
“Just ask the city first. If the information is readily available, staff is going to give it to you.”