Maple Ridge council could expand

Suggested by citizens group.

The group that wants to make city hall easier to access for the ordinary person has some suggestions for council.

But it’s going to be up to the politicians to decide whether they should expand council to nine from seven seats, make city hall documents searchable and explain more completely how much money they actually make, including the tax-free portion of their salaries, any benefits and what they make on committees.

“At the end of the day, you have to have a council that is committed to being open,” said Katherine Wagner, chair of the citizens group that came up the ideas and presented them to the mayor’s open government task force.

“No matter what you put in place, you have to have that commitment.”

Maple Ridge Mayor Nicole Read created the task force just after winning the November 2014 election.

Wagner favours expanding city council.

“That is already what we’re required to have,” based on Maple Ridge’s population.

Under the Community Charter, any city with a population of more than 50,000 should have a nine-person council.

The only reason Maple Ridge doesn’t have it is because a previous council passed a bylaw retaining the seven-person council, Wagner explained.

“We’re 70,000-plus. The workload on council and mayor would be lessened.”

Politicians are more pressed for time responding to requests from voters and answering e-mails.

Creation of an ombudsman and even moving to a ward system of electing councillors is also in the report.

The citizen’s group recently explained its recommendations to the mayor’s task force. Now it’s up to council to decide whether to implement them.

People also wanted to be better informed about new developments in their area, beforehand.

Some ways to do that would be to expand the area required for notifying residents of a proposed development. Another is to put up signs that are colour-coded, explaining the difference stages of a project. Newsletters and notices on bulletin boards could be used to inform those who are not online.

A major goal of the task force is to just ensure that people can access information that they can understand.

For instance, there’s lots of budget information online, “but it’s difficult to find and it’s difficult to understand.”

Searching the city website can also mean turning up dozens of PDF documents that are not searchable and require manual scanning to find the information sought.

Wagner would like a searchable database of how each councillor voted on every issue or bylaw and a list of declared conflicts of interest.

“I think all these things are fairly easy to maintain. It’s just the cost of setting them up.”

Read said in a news release that the report is detailed and “contains 58 very well-thought out recommendations across a variety of topics.”

The mayor’s task force on open government will decide what recommendations to bring to council.

The goal is to incorporate the recommendations, plus any priorities identified by council, into the city’s 2016 business plan.

 

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