Municipal watchdog files complaint against Langford, claiming lack of transparency

A municipal watchdog group has filed a complaint with the Office of the B.C. Ombudsperson against Langford for declining to make councillors’ financial disclosure documents available online.

Municipal officials are required to disclose their assets, debts and sources of income to identify what areas of influence and possible financial benefit they might have by virtue of being in office.

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The documents must be made available for public inspection during business hours, under the Financial Disclosure Act, but the act does not specify that they must be available online.

To view mayor and councillors’ financial disclosure documents, residents must make an appointment to visit city hall, but the building is closed to walk-in traffic during the pandemic.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ are raising concerns about having to go in person to see the documents during a pandemic, and have filed the complaint.

Stan Bartlett, former chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$, said the city’s decision not to share the documents online is consistent “with a general lack of transparency in Langford.”

Both Victoria and Saanich make the documents readily available online, and the watchdog group believes Langford should follow suit. Vancouver and Surrey also share the documents on their websites.

John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$, said Langford is “a hugely significant community” in the region.

“The default position by any level of government should be to strengthen openness and transparency,” he said.

An email from Langford to Bartlett says “the city is of the view that this information should not be disseminated on the internet,” and lists the COVID-19 safety protocols in place at city hall, including limiting visitors to those with appointments.

Langford Mayor Stew Young said his staff have assured him they’re acting in accordance with the Financial Disclosure Act, and he has never had a complaint about access to the documents.

He rejected the notion that because Victoria and Saanich share the documents on their websites, Langford should, too, and said he welcomes a ruling from the ombudsperson.

“I’m sure that everything that we’re doing in Langford is above board. We’re a well-run municipality. We’ve got the lowest taxes, we create a lot of jobs, we create a lot of affordable housing,” he said. “I don’t want to actually spend a lot of time on this. We’ll just wait for the ombudsman.”

Young said he’s not opposed to posting the documents online, but the issue has never come to council’s attention in the nearly three decades he’s been mayor.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$, along with Langford residents, have also accused Langford of secrecy for refusing to stream and archive their council meetings.

Young has said the city would begin recording audio of council-meeting conference calls and post it online afterwards.

A three-hour audio recording of a council meeting on Monday was the first to be shared to the city’s website.

Young has also said the city will move toward livestreaming and archiving videos of council meetings by the time councillors are able to meet in person again.

Most other municipalities in the region post audio and video of council meetings to their websites within 24 hours.

regan-elliott@timescolonist.com

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