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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 ethical conduct provisions. These provisions include rules around conflict of 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.
 

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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 close 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.
 

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A majority of municipal records and reports must be also be accessible and available to the public, this includes the annual 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 annual municipal 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.
 

 

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