Controversy swirls around District of Sooke council agendas.

Paperless agendas stir up controversy

Paper council agendas no longer offered to the public or media for free

It isn’t easy going green. Just ask the District of Sooke.

As the district works toward going paperless, there’s been a few bumps in the road such as paper council agendas no longer offered to the public or media for free. (Full agendas are available online).

The practice was stopped three months ago, but it’s still an issue of contention among council watchers.

“Council should reconsider this because it is very important to keep people engaged in council and what’s happening,” said Ellen Lewers, pointing out paper agendas have been offered to the public since the municipality incorporated in 1999.

“Many of us are not so savvy as to use computers. It removes a lot of the public from being able to be involved as we should because this is an access to council and to council minutes.”

The district’s decision to no longer print agenda packages for free for the public was not a decision based solely on savings. The decision was partly to reflect the district’s desire to be more environmentally sustainable (the decision went public on Earth Day), as well as to reflect the fact that printing costs for documents is clearly a situation where a user fee model applies, said Gabryel Joseph, director of corporate services.

“Printing agendas in the district have never been free, it was just previously paid for from general revenues. The cost of printing documents is an example of a service that clearly falls within a user fee model.”

Council’s decision to go to a paperless agenda began in 2011 when municipal staff wanted to reduce the amount of paper that was generated to do district business.

The first step in the process was in 2014 when councillors were issued iPads for council work.

There is always a copy of the current agenda at Municipal Hall for public review and inspection, and there is no requirement for any member of the public to print agenda packages at the district office.

While this practice of not offering free agendas is new to Sooke, it is a common practice in municipalities across Canada.

“I do not have numbers of how many agendas used to be printed, but I do know that since I arrived, there were several meetings where packages were printed for the public and left in the council chamber that numbered in the hundreds of pages,” Joseph said.