Operations Committee (Tuesday, October 20, 3027)

There are a number of major issues on this Operation Committee meeting Ops Agenda 171010 Open Package. First and foremost is our Operations update, including our Monthly Expenses and Revenues summaries and our Capital Projects updates. Interestingly this Capital Project update includes the information that the Seismic Upgrade for McBride (either rebuild or replacement) is now ready to go to Treasury Board for funding approval, headlines in the paper to the contrary.

The second major issue on the Agenda is the dissolution of the School District Business Company. As some of you may remember just as some School District Business Companies were becoming profitable for School Districts the Provincial Liberal government established a rule that only private companies could operate off-shore schools. It has been a long wait to conclude this venture that was finally bringing monies into our district.

In an oddity we are looking to reopen a school that has been operating as a location for our Home Learners Program. When we transferred the last students from Hume Park and moved the Home Learners Program in, we had to technically close the school to end the use of it for regular program.

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Finally I am very excited to have my Duty to Document proposal finally make it to a Board agenda. I first proposed this in November 2016, it has been a long wait.

I think that we need both the Duty to Document policy and a Duty to Inform 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 and why and not just what decisions were made to preserve the institutional memory of the Board and the reasons for those decisions.

We need to constantly remind ourselves at all levels of government that the decisions we make and the money we spend belongs to the community and public.  The public needs to have information, as do Trustees, before decisions are made to help inform the public of what might happen, of what options are to be considered and allow the public time to influence those decisions. We who are elected to public office can never lose sight of the public’s right to know since we serve on their behalf, in their name, spending their money.

I believe that this is so important for reflective, considerate and transparent 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.

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Supplement to: OPERATIONS POLICY & PLANNING COMMITTEE
DATE: Sunday, November 13, 2016
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 cultures develop of the destruction of documents to prevent the public from knowing about an issue and an increasingly oral culture has developed in government so that information does not have to be put down on paper or in documents thus keeping that 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. On 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 2016 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 such 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.

To move forward on such a policy the Board would need to determine what areas we would expect and apply such a process. It could be all areas and all items for Board decisions or it could be specific areas and items that the Board deems most important for the historic record and for public information. Once the Board has determined what areas need to be documented then I would be prepared to bring forward the Policy amendment that is noted above.

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 Duty to Document Board decisions and retention of School District decision making records, and that the Board determine what areas and/or what items should be specified in such a policy.

 

Author: Michael Ewen

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

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