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BLOG: Transit Authority Defends Right To Hold Secret Meetings ...
BLOG: Transit Authority Defends Right To Hold Secret Meetings


BLOG: Transit Authority Defends Right To Hold Secret Meetings ...


Jan16/08: Transit Authority Defends Right To Hold Secret Meetings ...

His seat hardly warm, the new chairman of TransLink is coming under fire for deciding to move the provincial transit authority's previously public board meetings behind closed doors.

Dale Parker, former chairman of the Workers' Compensation Board, took over Wednesday and announced that in future TransLink directors would meet in private, away from public and media scrutiny.

Parker said it's more effective for TransLink to develop its strategic plans without the public or media present, adding private board meetings are standard practice with provincial Crown corporations.

The decision comes just days after Premier Gordon Campbell announced a 12-year, $14-billion plan to expand transit in the province, for which TransLink must come up with $2.75 billion.

NDP transportation critic Maurine Karagianis blasted Parker's announcement, saying the B.C. Liberal government has handed TransLink's unelected directors the authority to make tax decisions and it would be wrong to conduct that business in secret.

"When you have a group like this that can levy property taxes, that is enormous power," she said. "Without any kind of accountability to the public it's inappropriate to have taxation without representation.

"TransLink is not a Crown corporation ... This is an organization that has been given powers equal to a municipality and powers to levy property taxes."

The New Democrat MLA said it is unacceptable that such a body should meet in private and their actions be kept secret from the public.

The government passed legislation in December scrapping the existing TransLink board, made up of municipal politicians from the Vancouver area, and replaced it with a team of "professionals."

The new board, in turn, will answer to a new level of governance called the Mayors' Council on Regional Transportation, which will have ultimate approval on fare increases and transit expansion plans.

B.C. Transportation Minister Kevin Falcon weighed in late in the say, saying he sees nothing wrong with holding the previously-public board meetings in secret, insisting there will still be ample accountability and transparency.

"It's the same model that every Crown corporation, essentially, operates under. They're still required to hold an annual general meeting, they're still required to publish all the minutes of their board meetings, including any committee meetings they may have. All that has to be made available to the public," he said.

TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said that is where the public oversight and accountability will come in.

"You don't see public meetings very often, even among public entities," he said, pointing to Crown corporations such as B.C. Hydro and the Insurance Corp. of B.C., as well as agencies such as the Workers' Compensation Board, now called WorkSafe B.C.

Hardie said the public will still be invited to make representations to the board through "town hall meetings," and the board will still be available to delegations several times a year.

"The only thing that changes is that, under the old system, some people might hang around as the board went through its agenda and voted," he explained.

"Now, when the board goes through the agenda, that will take place in camera (in private), but the decisions they make will be posted immediately."

The only thing the public or media might miss is any exchanges between board members "as they knock about some of the concepts," he said.

Falcon agreed.

"The fact of the matter is you won't be able to accomplish everything if you had every meeting wide open that anyone could just wander into," he said.

Previous open TransLink meetings have been notable for the sometimes bitter feuding between board members from different municipalities arguing passionately about its priorities.

Hardie rejected the NDP critic's assertion that the board has the authority to levy property taxes. While the board may make plans and approve revenue measures, final approval rests with the mayors of the region.

"Our board can not approve any kind of increase," he said. "It has to go to the mayors' council, which of course, is all duly elected."

An official with British Columbia's information watchdog said her office has no authority to keep the TransLink board from conducting its business entirely in private.

But Mary Carlson, the executive director of the Information and Privacy Commissioner's office, said that if a board conducts all its business in-camera, that represents a "diminution of transparency."

Records of those meetings may be available through freedom of information laws, she said, but it does create "another legislative hurdle" for the public to get access to that information.

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