Langford accused of secrecy after declining to livestream its meetings

Langford council is once again being accused of secrecy and a lack of accountability for refusing to stream and archive its meetings online — something that the vast majority of municipalities in the capital region already do.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria slammed the city Thursday after learning that its council met in private Monday and decided against livestreaming its meetings.

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“I mean, to discuss transparency in an in camera meeting, it’s beyond belief in 2020,” said John Treleaven, who chairs the municipal watchdog group.

“It’s an insult to the citizens of Langford. It’s an insult to the taxpayers among those citizens, and, frankly, it’s an insult to everybody who really enjoys what Langford has to offer.”

Langford residents are unable to attend meetings in person because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but can participate by teleconference. If people are working or otherwise busy during a meeting, however, they have to wait for the minutes to be published because Langford doesn’t save the audio of its meetings.

By contrast, most other municipalities in the capital region record audio and video of their meetings and post them on their websites within 24 hours, so people can search and view particular debates and decisions any time they want.

Langford Coun. Lillian Szpak, who has been advocating for greater transparency, confirmed that council discussed the issue in camera and then reported publicly that it would not pursue livestreaming at this time.

Council did not divulge the reasons for its decision, and Szpak said she was precluded from disclosing how she voted.

“What I can say is that I encouraged this to come [forward] and, personally, I would like to see this,” she said in an interview. “It’s disappointing to me that we are not going forward at this time.”

The city declined to release a staff report on the issue because it was received by council at an in camera meeting.

Langford Mayor Stew Young said he wasn’t present for the meeting and couldn’t speak for council. But he said it would have been “very odd” to bring in a new service now.

“Obviously, there’s a cost to doing this and we’re in the middle of our budget and it’s tight and it’s COVID, so council had to make a decision on that, I would assume,” he said.

Young said Langford won’t be holding any in-person council meetings anyway because of new COVID-19 restrictions, so launching a livestreaming service now would make no sense.

“The public can phone in,” he said. “So nothing will really change the way we’ve been doing it in the last three or four months. It’s worked out pretty good.”

He acknowledged that Langford doesn’t record the audio of its meetings, but he said the nobody has been clamoring for council to livestream and archive its meetings.

“Like nobody’s complained that we don’t have it,” he said. “I think I have one from the Grumpy Taxpayer$.”

But J. Scott of Fairway Neighbours Unite, a group fighting the proposed development of two 12-storey towers in a Langford neighbourhood, said she and others have been writing council to demand video livestreaming of council meetings.

Scott said the teleconference calls are hard to hear, there’s no way to replay them to scrutinize decisions, and the fact that meetings start at 5:30 p.m. makes it impossible for many people with jobs to attend.

“Taxpaying citizens of Langford are being locked out of the democratic process,” she said.

Langford Coun. Lanny Seaton refused to comment.

“I’m not allowed to talk about it because it’s in camera,” he said. “How did you find out it was even there?”

Coun. Matt Sahlstrom also declined to say where he stood on the issue.

“My opinion is my opinion, that’s all,” he said. “I’ll just keep that quiet for right now. I think we all will.”

But Coun. Denise Blackwell said she’s in favour of council adopting livestreaming technology.

“I think it’s well past time we caught up with everybody else,” she said. “Especially now with COVID, people really want to hear [and] see what’s going on in council meetings.”

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