Public Participation and Council and Board Accountability
Local governments have a relationship with their citizens that can
take many forms. In some cases, local governments have a legislated
requirement to involve citizens in their decision-making; in other
cases local governments involve their citizens as a part of good governance.
The primary and most basic opportunity for citizen involvement is
through participation in local elections. Elections
are held every three years for the positions of mayor and council in municipalities
and electoral area director in regional districts. Local elections
provide the democratic framework around which elected officials are ultimately
held accountable for their decisions and actions.
Within that broad accountability framework, legislation provides
checks and balances. Elected officials are responsible for
considering the well-being and interests of their community and must
respect decisions made by council. A very important aspect of
elected official accountability is the legislated
conduct provisions. These provisions include rules around
interest, receiving gifts, entering into contracts, inside and
outside influence and insider information.
Separate from participating in local elections, citizens have other
opportunities to be involved with their local governments. Local
governments often seek citizen views on possible courses of action,
through various forms of non-binding information collection. Tools
used to seek community opinion include surveys, holding opinion
polls (using the formal elector provisions) or hosting community
forums. Alternatively, citizens may initiate requests for action
through a petition to their local government.
Certain local government decision-making processes require approval
of the electorate before an action can be undertaken. This can be
done either through seeking assent of the electorate, subject to the
election rules, or through using an alternative approval process.
This latter tool is used by local governments to “test” the
electorate’s support for an action by providing the opportunity for
electors to petition against a proposed action or decision. If less
than 10% of the electorate petition against the proposal, then the
local government can proceed.
Citizens also have the right to participate in local government
hearings. This includes the right to be heard on decisions that
affect an individual, such as where a lien is put on an owner’s
property (sec 57 CC), or a business license is denied (sec. 60 CC)
or on decisions that affect the broader community, such as rezoning
land or amending an official
community plan. As well, legislation provides in defined circumstances, the
right for citizens to make representations to their councils. Generally, these
provisions are used in those circumstances where the council is proposing to
undertake specific actions that could have a direct impact on
individual’s rights. For example, citizens have a right to make
representations to council where it is proposing to
a road, or to discontinue providing a service.
Councils have authority to delegate authority to other bodies or
individuals. This broad authority is balanced with accountability to
the public by including specific limitations on delegation and, in
certain cases, reconsideration mechanisms.
Citizens are guaranteed access to their local governments through
the legislated requirement for
open meetings. While there is the
opportunity for councils and boards to hold closed meetings in
specified circumstances, all local government decisions must be
brought forward and made at meetings open to the public.
A majority of municipal records and reports must be also be accessible and
available to the public, this includes the
municipal report. This report provides information about the services and activities of the
municipality, municipal budget information, council’s objectives,
and reports on the performance of the municipality in meetings its
objectives. Each year a council must hold an
meeting where the annual report is presented to the public.
Citizens have the added right to make requests for information under
the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and can
review the personal financial reports of elected officials that are
required under the Financial Disclosure Act.
Local governments are obligated to keep their citizen’s informed
through legislated notice requirements. This includes the
requirement to provide public notice of meetings and specified local
government actions, decisions or proposals.