Duty to Document

I was delighted to hear that the provincial government has moved forword with a legislative requirement for a Duty to Document government decisions.

CBC News

While I am not sure yet if this Duty to Document  legislation is going to apply to School Boards, or even if this will meet the test of B.C.’s former information and privacy commissioner, Elizabeth Denham report Access Denied, I am certainly thrilled with the direction. In November I presented the New Westminster School Board with a motion for a School District Duty to Document Policy. It has yet to be placed on an Operations Committee Agenda, although I am hoping for an April Operations Committee.

I think that we need both the Duty to Document policy and a policy that clearly stipulates that all items that come before the Board are accompanied with clear , written documentation,

(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board

That would mean no more verbal reports and it would also mean that that the Board has a Duty to Document how, why and not just what decisions were made to preserve the institutional memory of the Board for the reasons for decisions.

I believe that this is so important for reflective, considerate and tranparent Board decision making that if we need to hire more administrative staff to accomplish this I would be supportive. I believe that there is a cost to democratic and transparent decision making, and as one trustee I am prepared to pay for it.

***********************************

Supplement to: OPERATIONS POLICY & PLANNING COMMITTEE
DATE: Sunday, November 13, 2017
Item: Requiring Action

PROPOSED DUTY TO DOCUMENT POLICY

Background:
Duty to Document is the concept of providing and preserving the full reasons for decisions that are made by public bodies.

For decades public bodies have relied on minutes of meeting to keep track of what was done and “institutional memory” to remember the why it was done. In this world of Freedom of Information we have seen develop cultures of destruction of documents and an increasingly oral culture so that information does not have to be put down on paper or in documents thus keeping the information from the public, obviously forgetting that it is the public’s information and it is the public that we serve, both as elected officials and as administration.

Elizabeth Denham is the former Information and Privacy Commissioner for British Columbia. In October 22, 2015 she released a report called, ACCESS DENIED: RECORD RETENTION AND DISPOSAL PRACTICES OF THE GOVERNMENT OF BRITISH COLUMBIA. In that report she stated,

“Access to information rights can only exist when public bodies create the conditions for those rights to be exercised. Government must promote a culture of access, from executive leadership to front-line employees. If they fail to meet this obligation, the access to information process is rendered ineffective.

Democracy depends on accountable government. Citizens have the right to know how their government works and how decisions are made. The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (“FIPPA”) enshrines this right, promoting openness, transparency and above all accountability of government activities.
Citizens can only exercise access rights when proper record keeping and retention is followed and the law providing access to records is respected. This requires that government:

  • appropriately create records;
  • understand and respect the distinction between a transitory record and a non-transitory record;
  • preserve all records that are potentially relevant to an access request once the request is received;
  • respond in an open, accurate and complete manner to access requests; and
    dispose of records only where there is legal authority to do so.”

In this increasingly complex world I believe that we have a duty to be much more transparent and much more forth coming, not just informing the public about our decisions, but the reasons for those decisions, and the options that were considered.

In late August I went over to Victoria to meet with the Deputy Commissioner of Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner. I went over as an individual Trustee and made it clear to those that I met with that I was acting as an individual Trustee, and that I was preparing information to take forward to the New Westminster Board of Education to propose developing a Duty to Document policy. They are very willing to help the Board of Education develop a Duty to Document policy. They suggested that we could look at a couple of different areas that already have some Duty to Document policies. They suggested both New Zealand’s Public Records Act  and the New South Wales’ State Records Act. Both of these Acts require public offices and their local authorities to create and maintain “full and accurate records” of the activities of the office or activities.
As well the Government of Canada, in it’s Policy on Information Management  states,

6. Policy requirements

6.1 Deputy heads are responsible for:
6.1.2 ensuring that decisions and decision‑making processes are documented to account for and support the continuity of departmental operations, permit the reconstruction of the evolution of policies and programs, and allow for independent evaluation, audit, and review;

This is all about access to the reasons for decision making and making that information available to the public that we serve. I see this as happening in two ways. The first way I am proposing is that we alter our proposed Board Policy by requiring staff to present information in writing, in the form of Backgrounders, in our packages prior to our meetings. In a different document that I have forwarded to Trustees I propose altering Policy 7 Board Operations, by adding a Duty to Document and Inform section before decisions are made, requiring,

Policy 7
BOARD OPERATIONS
6. Notice and Agendas

6.3 (1) Duty to Document
All items on the Board agenda must be accompanied by a Backgrounder
(1) outlining what the purpose of the agenda item is,
(2) outlining options for the Board consideration, and
(3) making a recommendation for the Board
All presentations must be attached to the Board agenda when it is distributed. If presentations are not attached, the presentation will be postponed.
No decisions can be made by the Board without proper and full written documentation. The Board Chair and Vice-Chair are responsible for ensuring that the proper documentation is attached to Board meeting agendas when they are distributed.
No verbal reports, material or items may be added to Board meeting agendas without the unanimous consent of the Board.

The second way that I propose is for the Board to adopt the attached motion that would have the Board adopt a policy on the expectations of the retention of records and making such records openly available to the public.

Recommendation:

THAT the Operations Policy and Planning Committee recommend to the Board of Education for School District No. 40 (New Westminster) that the Board develop a Duty to Document Policy on the retention of School District records.

Author: Michael Ewen

Husband, Parent, Grandparent, Dog Owner, Public School Teacher, Public School Trustee

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