Directors for the Regional District of Central Kootenay have asked staff to draw up a report on how to change the way votes are recorded.
They asked staff to recommend the best way to change the rules of procedure so that all negative votes are officially recorded by the meeting secretary.
The change was suggested by a recently formed citizens’ group who said knowing individual director’s voting records would make proceedings more open and accountable. The motion itself was presented by Area E Director Cheryl Graham.
“It’s as a result of these meetings not recorded for the public, and the public coming to me and said they’d like to be able to know how their director voted,” she said. “If we recorded who was opposed, then we’d automatically know who was in favour … other municipalities are doing this.”
Other directors agreed it could be a good idea.
“I’m OK with this, because in my previous lifetime this was the matter of practice,” said Area C Director Kelly Vandenberghe. “I don’t know that the public really scrutinizes it or not, but I have no problem allowing the public to understand my position as I represent them at the table.”
The board already records negative votes, if the director in opposition asks for it to be recorded. The 25-person RDCK board can be unwieldy during votes, and recording how every director votes on every motion would add a lot of time to the already day-long meetings.
But not everyone thought the move would improve board openness and accountability, pointing out that every meeting involving directors making decisions was open to the public, and regional directors are easily contacted and can be asked to explain their reasoning behind any vote.
Board chair Aimee Watson said she already makes sure her residents know how she voted.
“My biggest concern is simply recording ‘opposed’ votes is a very short-sighted version of what we are doing here,” she said. “And to me, it’s suggesting we’re not transparent and we’re not approachable by the public … I have a very big concern this is trying to solve a problem that is actually about transparency. If my residents don’t think they can come to me and ask me how I voted and trust me on that, that’s the problem. Recording my vote doesn’t solve that problem.”
Others pointed out simply recording a ‘nay’ or ‘yea’ reduces complicated debates and opinions to misleading simplifications – and can distort the intention behind ‘no’ votes. That’s been the experience in the U.S., where voting records have been turned into ideological purity tests by pressure groups like the gun lobby and anti-abortion activists.
“This is leading to the American ‘every vote you ever make is recorded,’” noted Area G Director Hans Cunningham. “I’m going to use the example of Director McFaddin today, who voted in opposition to a motion because she didn’t have enough information. That may not mean she is opposed or in favour. … I think those kinds of things can get lost in translation.”
Castlegar Mayor Maria McFaddin said she would like to see the RDCK meetings recorded. She noted Castlegar’s city’s council meetings are recorded and put online for the public to watch.
“I will be voting in favour because of that. If we had a mechanism for someone to see where everyone lands, and why, then I wouldn’t be. Because we don’t this is the only way for the public to see how individual directors vote or what our own opinions might be.”
At the end of the debate, Graham’s motion to have negative votes automatically recorded was handily defeated. However, directors put forward a motion to refer the issue to staff to return with a report on how best to implement recording negative votes.
That’s because the RDCK’s procedure bylaw will have to be amended to make the change – and that’s not a simple thing. One of the foundational documents of how a government or board works, the procedure bylaw guarantees fairness, and the much-prized openness and accountability of the politicians. Any change can have unintended ripple effects that can make the board or its committees less effective. Organizations tread cautiously when changing it.
The board also wants staff to consider other changes to the procedure bylaw that have been recommended over the last year or so, to see if the changes can be all done at the same time.
No timeline was given for the report or the next debate on the issue.