Written is on the record. In person is informal

Editorial

Tuesday, October 27 2015

Deleted emails were a hot topic last week, as the BC Auditor General handed down numerous recommendations designed to keep our provincial politicians and staff from deleting or removing information from what is, quite properly, public record.

And at the Gabriola Local Trust Committee meeting last week, Planner Aleksandra Brzozowski had a report designed to better explain what is or isn’t ‘on the public record’ when it comes to correspondence between the Trustees and members of the public.

Sidebar: there is no suggestion, whatsoever, that the Islands Trust is doing anything wrong with it’s policy. It was pure coincidence that Trust staff reported on existing policy the same week the Auditor General and provincial media tore into the provincial government’s ‘triple deleting’ culture.

Key takeaway for the Trust policy: if it’s emailed, written, or otherwise put in to a format to be read by the Trustees, one might as well consider it public information. There may be rare cases where such communications are kept private, but for the most part, it’s going to be publicly available.

Especially if the email is sent to anyone’s email ending with @islandstrust.bc.ca

The goal is not to punish those members of the public who wish to participate in the running of our democracy.

The goal is to ensure that no politician or staff person makes decisions about what is or isn’t public information. If one is doing the business of the public - again with a few exceptions - information is to be made public. Whether immediately or through a Freedom of Information request - it should be assumed it can and will come to public light.

That does leave the question - if someone wants to have an off the record conversation with Trustees (or any other public body) of whether that can actually happen.

The answer is yes, same as ever - just have the conversation in person, or over the phone.

Too often, it can be very easy to simply rip an email off, and count on the fact that someone is going to get that email and do something with it.

Making an actual conversation happen can be a little more difficult. It means tracking someone down and finding the time to have that conversation.

The conversation is just a conversation - with no obligation on anyone to explain what was discussed, and can lead to some very quick back and forth of information that could take days by email.

It also means the nuances of the spoken language can be heard. There is no nuance to an email.

It would be helpful if there was a scheduled time, much like the RDN staff, where members of the public could count on going to the Islands Trust office and find at least one of the elected officials available to answer questions.

Currently lacking office time - both Gabriola Trustees have phone numbers available as a way to contact them.

We need to have politicians accountable - no question.

But there are also going to be those conversations where people need to have their say, even if they don’t want it to be part of the public record. (With the understanding it will be given less credence than an official written submission)

For that, and always, the best form of communication is in person.