Regional district talks transparency, will consider ongoing streaming of meetings

Increased transparency was on the agenda at the Thompson Nicola Regional District board meeting on Thursday. Included, literally, in the agenda were myriad letters of correspondence to the board, many more than would be typically seen.

Among them was a letter from the deputy commissioner of the RCMP outlining its COVID-19 safe return to workplace plan, a request for feedback on trail priorities by the province and a letter from the president of Thompson Rivers University.

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TNRD Chair Ken Gillis said on Thursday the regional district has a new process for dealing with correspondence.

“Apparently the earlier practice was that some letters addressed to the entire board would come to the board and some, for various reasons, would be … put to one side and they wouldn’t come to the board,” Gillis said. “The new policy is that any letter directed to the board comes to the board.”

The news was cause for applause by Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Sally Watson, who solo-clapped immediately after Gillis explained the new measures.

The issue of correspondence has been raised among concerns about transparency at the regional district. In addition, regional district residents have expressed concern about votes not being recorded in the minutes and meetings not streamed for the public.

A step forward on that front came Thursday, when Area P (Rivers and the Peaks) director Mel Rothenburger served a notice of motion requesting staff look into costs and options, including archiving, security and equipment, to broadcast meetings on Facebook or the TNRD website on a permanent basis.

The issue has been raised in the past, but didn’t gain much traction, with insufficient support from the board.

But that was then — pre-COVID-19 — and the government has since been thrust into a digital era, live-streaming its meeting without the public or media allowed to attend in recent months. (Thursday was the first public, in-person TNRD meeting since March and the board met at a hotel down the road from its building.) Rothenburger noted on Thursday the regional district saw many more members of the public participate in meetings digitally than would typically attend in person. In fact, the last board meeting, held in May, was livestreamed via Facebook and, as of Thursday afternoon, had 860 views.

“We as a local government have a responsibility to promote citizen engagement, dissemination of accurate information, inclusivity, transparency and accountability,” Rothenburger said, in reading part of his notice of motion on Thursday.

The issue will be debated at the board’s next meeting, in July.

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