Report: Correspondence emailed to Trustees is public

Derek Kilbourn

Sounder News

Tuesday, October 27 2015

Due to some recent issues dealing with email correspondence, Islands Trust staff prepared a report for the Gabriola Local Trust Committee to inform both the LTC and the public on certain aspects of the Islands Trust Correspondence Policy and legislation that pertain to public input and the public record. 

Key to it is correspondence emailed to one or all of the Islands Trustees or staff is likely to be considered public record, with some exceptions under the Community Charter.

Staff also pointed out that correspondence done in other venues, be they news publications or social media, but not made directly to Trust staff or Trustees, are considered ‘third party information’ and cannot be included in the Islands Trust’s public record.

Aleksandra Brzozowski Island Planner with the Northern Office and author of the report, said she wanted to be clear about how the Trust does correspondence and public input.

When asked by Trustees what it means for something to be in the public record, Brzozowski said it means the correspondence will be in a public hearing record if it is about a project or amendment that goes forward.

Comments sent to any email using the domain @islandstrust.bc.ca will be included as public record.

Trustees asked what it would happen if someone sends an email to one or all of the trustees saying they can’t go public because it involves their boss, teacher, landlord, et cetera.

What about someone sends an email to all the local trustees - and they say they can’t go public with this because it involves my boss, teacher, landlord, and I’m scared.

Trustee Melanie Mamoser asked, “would that be considered part of the decision-making process? If there is the case of retribution, would it be considered without being made public?”

Staff made it clear the Local Trustee will not receive private correspondence, with the exceptions that can go in camera (land purchases, legal matters et cetera).

Brzozowski said to remember that if something is considered in camera, a freedom of information request may still be filed - some information might be redacted.

LTC Chair Laura Bushekin said a lot of the back and forth about what is and isn’t public can get complicated.

“People who want to comment in a meaningful way need to be able to do it publicly and have the courage. We need to support a community ethic that allows that to happen.”

Trustee Heather Nicholas said she would like to develop some way of ensuring all correspondence is acknowledged, a review of the work flow of the LTC should be done to ensure if one of the Trustees is responding to a member of the public, the rest of the LTC knows so they are not doubling-up on answers.

Mamoser said she would like to see some clarity on the web site so when people look to the site, it makes it clear whether correspondence is/should be going to staff, or Trustees.

In her memo, Brzozowski wrote that the Islands Trust Correspondence Policy outlines how to handle incoming comments and correspondence received by Trustees and Staff. This Trust-wide correspondence policy was developed with considerable staff input, Executive Committee review, and Trust Council consideration and adoption.

Recent Issues

a. Anonymity. One of the principles of the Correspondence Policy is to not receive anonymous comments for the public record. A local trust committee will not formally accept anonymous correspondence, or correspondence marked private or confidential, unless it could be considered in a closed meeting in accordance with Sec. 90 of the Community Charter.

The primary rationale behind this principle is the need to have the ability to contact writers of correspondence that contains defamatory content and ask that they either remove said statements or, if they are not willing to do so, advise that their correspondence will not be included on a published agenda. Such a policy also aims to deter inflammatory comments that a writer would not be comfortable making if their name was attached to the correspondence.

b. Comments made in other public forums. Comments that have been made in other venues including the news publications or social media, but were not made directly to Islands Trust Staff or Trustees in relation to an Islands Trust issue, are considered “third party information” and cannot be included in the Islands Trust’s public record. The rationale behind this policy is to ensure that all comments made have been intended to be considered by the LTC. It is also intended to protect the privacy of individuals with respect to their personal information, which includes their views or opinions. Consistent with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA), explicit permission from an individual is required to have his or her comments included in the Islands Trust’s public record.

c. Public Record. All comments sent in writing to Trustees or Staff concerning a relevant planning topic automatically become part of the public record.

d. Redaction. The LTC is committed to not furthering any defamatory comments made on any side of an issue. Any comments containing comments that would fuel defamation of anyone’s character or identify specific persons will be redacted by Staff. As per the FOIPPA, personal contact information other than a name should also be redacted.