Port Moody council rejected a call to restore the recording and archiving of its land use committee (LUC) meetings on Tuesday.
Staff cut the recording keeping feature in April, stating they wanted consistency across all city committees, ending a practice dating back to 2015
Coun. Haven Lurbiecki brought forth a motion on May 9 calling for the immediate renewal of the practice, stating it was an opportunity for council to show its commitment to transparency.
“What I’m asking is that we go back to pressing the same record button we pressed a month ago,” Lurbiecki said. “You can come up with, to be frank, a million reasons … But none of these justify reducing public transparency and accountability.”
The LUC provides advice to council on development applications that require land use changes, and is currently composed of two council members and community volunteers.
The motion was defeated by a 6-1 vote, and sparked discussion over best practices, past motions, costs and alleged harassment of its volunteer members by the public clipping portions of the videos online.
Lurbiecki said while all committees are important, the LUC plays a unique role, which is why it was not paused during structure changes to other committees earlier in the term.
Attached to the motion was a 2019 motion from Coun. Diana Dilworth, which followed a similar halt of archiving committee meetings in 2017, and led to a restoration of the practice.
Dilworth, for her part, said that the landscape and committee structure has changed since 2019, as it’s now a majority volunteer body.
She said the old committees were attended by all members of council, and she believes any meeting with this structure requires recording.
“It’s funny, all these people praising me have never actually asked me my intent behind that motion,” Dilworth said. “I’m comfortable having made that decision in 2019, and I’m comfortable with the staff decision of 2023.”
Staff said Dilworth’s previous motion only applied to the Community Planning Advisory Committee (CPAC) – a precursor to the LUC – and the archival practice continued in error.
Mayor Meghan Lahti said that CPAC was “an experiment (that) didn’t last long,” and the LUC structure has now been restored to best practices across the region.
She said CPAC was a “mishmash” of the LUC and advisory design panel, had professionals like architects and biologists, and required a quorum of sitting council members, along with volunteers.
Lahti said because CPAC was a decision making body, it made sense to record and archive meetings, whereas now the LUC is just an advisory body.
Furthermore, Lahti said she’s done extensive research on municipal committees across the province, and can’t find a single city which records committee meetings, “let alone just one of them.”
“I believe that that is enough reason for us to say we need to take a step back,” Lahti said. “It’s about transparency in decision making … The land use committee doesn’t make decisions.”
She pointed out that LUC meetings are still livestreamed, and can be watched in person at city hall.
Current LUC members Jeff McLellan, Stirling Ward, and Sarah Wellman all spoke against the motion during the public input period, citing the structural changes.
Former LUC member Hazel Mason, however, was in favour. She alleged false statements were being made regarding the committee’s composition of council members in 2019. “It’s just plain wrong,” she said.
Coun. Kyla Knowles, who chairs the LUC, said she was “a bit insulted” by Lurbiecki’s motion, as it is dismissive of other rationales, and implies they were intentionally trying to diminish transparency.
She said other committees are just as important as the LUC, and either all committee meetings should be recorded, or none.
Knowles said there are budgetary constraints, referencing the latest 9.3 percent property tax increase. She said it costs $900 to record and archive a single regular council.
“Port Moody must learn to live within its means,” Knowles said.
Lurbiecki pushed back on the financial argument, quoting a 2023 report which said committee meetings could be recorded for a nominal cost using remote platforms, which was confirmed by staff.
A large portion of the discussion focused on alleged online harassment of committee volunteers by members of the public editing and posting videos of meetings online.
Lahti read a letter she received from a current member of the LUC, stating a few individuals had posted out of context clips meant to criticize or support certain individual committee members.
Knowles said some recordings were “maliciously edited … for dissection and mocking,” by a previous member of council, adding one volunteer told her they would not have applied if they had known.
Wellman also spoke on this issue, stating there’s an important distinction between volunteers and elected public officials.
“The community has a tendency to scrutinize every expression, every word, what clothes you wear, your appearance, everything,” Wellman said. “We didn’t run for election. We didn’t volunteer to put ourselves through that.”
Subjecting volunteers to this style of public scrutiny is unacceptable, according to Lahti.
“I accept that as an elected official, I will be subjected to this type of behavior,” Lahti said. “As mayor, I have been targeted by some very disgruntled members of the public, and failed candidates, who don’t like the results of the election and have nothing better to do with their time.”
Coun. Callan Morrison said since videos are livestreamed, the public will still technically be able to screen record, but at least the city will know “who’s in the room,” as attendees have to register.
Lurbiecki and Mason both disputed the harassment claims made against individual committee members, stating they had not seen anything like the referenced incidents.
Former councillor and recent mayoral candidate, Steve Milani, has regularly levelled criticism at the current council through short edited videos of regular meetings.
One video posted by Milani features an LUC meeting, but criticizes Knowles over a procedural dispute with another committee member.
By Patrick Penner, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter