A municipal ship runs on discipline and good policy

Princeton gets its house in order

Unless you reside under a rock you will understand by now that the ship BCM Princeton is getting into shape.

From port to starboard this can reasonably be attributed to the municipality’s new captain, Cheryl Martens, who took over the job of CAO just seven weeks ago.

In a short time she has required council to follow its own procedures bylaw, implemented a make-sense system to encourage and moderate delegations at meetings, and tidied up after previous administrators in a variety of ways.

Most recently Martens recommended council adopt a policy governing requests for information from town staff – the freedom of information and protection of privacy policy.

In an interview with The Spotlight she did not mince words when she stated the policy is in part to protect front line municipal office workers from dealing with individuals who walk off the street making demands for information, sometimes yelling and becoming aggressive.

As the paper reported last week, surveillance cameras are soon to be installed at municipal hall as a further safety measure.

All that said, the recently enacted policy does nothing more than distill the essence of the provincial freedom of information legislation, which itself is modelled on federal law. These rules have always been applicable, but they haven’t always been consulted.

The importance of ensuring access to public records cannot be understated. More than 100 countries, from Albania to Zimbabwe, have laws governing this. Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act, of 1766, is the world’s oldest.

Under the policy routine inquiries – copies of bylaws, statements of financial information, agendas, minutes and so on – will continue to be distributed on request. And it should be noted most of this is already available on the town’s website.

Do you want to know how much a dog license is in Princeton? Just go in and ask nicely and don’t forget they close for lunch.

However not every document possessed by a public body is intended for public consumption.

You are not allowed, for example, to access someone else’s personal information, or information that could harm a business. There is no access to information that could compromise law enforcement, or the economic interests of the body itself.

The policy ensures that for information of a non-routine nature a request is made in writing, and a timeline for response is provided, as well as quotes for fees for the information should it take more than three hours to prepare.

Therefore – if you want to know how much the town staff spends on pens every year, or how much mileage the mayor racks up going back and forth between meetings, you can probably get that information under the act.

But it’s not just sitting there in a drawer. Invoices and billings would have to be dissected on the important pen question. And all mayor and councillor expenses are reported annually, but they are not broken out into category. That would take some digging.

An actual ship runs on any number of fuel mixes, or batteries or electric power. And also discipline.

A municipality runs on discipline as well, and the crew needs to be supported by good policy to ensure clear sailing. – AD

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