District of West Vancouver has removed some information from its website because it does not want you to know what your fellow residents think about important issues. West Van resident and council-watcher Melinda Slater pursued the matter with the district for close to an year, only to know that the district is following “best practices”. She has written a letter to the mayor and council to highlight how the district prevents sharing of information and ideas on its website. Slater says she has heard back from Councillors Peter Lambur and Sharon Thompson who said they would be discussing her concerns this week with the council and the CAO. Below is Slater’s letter and also a link at the bottom to a recap of events as well as the chain of her correspondence with the district:
August 31, 2019
Re: WestvancouverITE survey platform/controlling information.
Mayor and Council,
I write to you regarding serious concerns I have with the apparent aversion that some of our public servants have to sharing information and the lengths they go to control it.
I refer to the WestvancouverITE survey platform as an example. Changes to this platform (1) prevent users from viewing others’ survey responses, (2) make it difficult to edit or change ones’ own response to an open survey and (3) prevent the public from viewing responses to closed surveys online. All of these things were possible with the old platform. These changes do not contribute to transparency or facilitate sharing of ideas and information, instead they are a significant step backwards.
I raised concern about the first two items last year with Donna Powers (Director of Community Relations & Communications), and at an April 2018 Community Engagement Committee (CEC) meeting, where everyone (including CEO Nina Leemhuis) agreed on the value of these features. It was my understanding they would be reinstated. I was not the only one with this impression — one of the CEC members confirmed they also thought there was acknowledgement that these features should be reinstated. I now learn that public access to others’ survey responses is purposely prevented to “promote independent feedback that cannot be influenced by the opinion of other participants”. Further, there is no intent to allow users to easily go back and edit or change their survey submission.
As to the third item, last October I was assured that the public would be able to view old surveys online (questions and answers, not just how many surveys have been completed). Now I’m told the District is not archiving closed surveys online because it’s “in keeping with current website best practices”.
Apparently, what works for our community — what we did before and what was widely agreed to be a good thing — doesn’t conform to some dubious “best practices”. I do not know whether this was decided before or after my Oct 2 inquiry (or my Feb 1, Aug 2 or Aug 20 inquiry). This is the polar opposite of transparency — it’s a calculated move to prevent sharing of information.
Is it also a “best practice” to mislead the public (and “mislead” is putting it charitably) – to take months to respond (and then only after multiple inquiries)? The amount of time and effort it has taken to get to this point is unacceptable, yet nothing new. No wonder there is rampant mistrust within the community and why so many choose to disengage.
This wasn’t a “misunderstanding”. Passing it off as such is an insult. Nor is this the only example of obfuscating, misleading and ignoring citizens. In March I wrote to Mayor & Council regarding the B-Line fiasco. I said then that a number of our top staff have failed spectacularly in their duty to serve the public, including withholding, manipulating and knowingly providing incorrect information, and that simply apologizing is not enough – someone must be held accountable. I noted it was Mayor Booth’s responsibility to see to this in a timely and transparent manner. Yet here we are and this type of behaviour continues – business as usual.
I fully appreciate District staff must have some autonomy to do their job without fear of repercussion from every minor complaint. But how far does this immunity go? What happens when there is abundant evidence of negligent and unethical behaviour? Where is the accountability?
Once again, I call on Mayor Booth to address this matter with action and consequences befitting the gravity of the situation.
1058 Keith Road
Please do not redact any portion of this correspondence.
Click on the PDF link below to read a recap of events as well as the chain of Slater’s correspondence with the district: