(Pixabay.com)

(Pixabay.com)

COLUMN: Coping with 1,116 pages of the democratic process

Lengthy agenda packages are a sign of government transparency

Some of the most important statements and documents are remarkably short.

The world’s most famous scientific equation, Albert Einstein’s mass-energy equivalency, can be stated in just five characters: E=mc². The Ten Commandments in the Bible are a little more than 300 words. The Magna Carta, an important British legal document signed in 1215, comes in at around 12 typewritten pages in length.

By comparison, the agenda package for the March 18 meeting of the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen was considerably longer, at 1,116 pages.

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The agenda package included information for two public hearings, numerous information items, land use documentations, financial data, an official community plan bylaw for one of the electoral areas, and much, much more. All of the information affects part or all of the regional district. It makes a difference to the present and future of the communities and the people within the regional district.

The average reading speed for adults is around 250 to 300 words per minute, or roughly one typewritten page per minute. With that metric, it would take almost 19 hours to read the entire council agenda. While many people are able to read faster than the average speed, reading speed tends to slow down when there is a lot of mathematical or technical information.

Once the directors had read the regional district agenda, there was time spent discussing the issues at board meetings. The meetings on March 18 took five hours.

This is the longest agenda package I have witnessed during my time covering government meetings. Much more common are packages of 200 to 400 pages for a municipal council meeting, and a little longer for regional district meetings. Still lengthy, but they are much more manageable than the March 18 Okanagan-Similkameen agenda.

Long documents and lengthy agenda packages are part of life for elected officials and for those who follow the political process. Anyone thinking about running for an elected position should be prepared to do a lot of reading.

However, there is a positive side to these lengthy agenda packages. They show a level of transparency surrounding the decision-making process.

The idea of nefarious schemers, working in secret as they plan legislation to destroy our way of life, is a fictional trope. It’s hard for someone in government to make secret plans when so much information is public.

In Canada, the public can see what is happening at the various decision-making bodies. Most meetings are open to the public and documentation is readily available. (The few closed meetings deal with internal personnel matters, legal issues and discussions related to contracts and land dealings.)

Accountability and transparency are essential to our democratic process. Anyone who wishes can see how government decisions are made, as well as all the information used in making these decisions. In addition, minutes are taken and the meetings are recorded.

Of course, this does not mean the public will like every decision made at the governing table. It only means the process is visible.

If a transparent and open government means wading through page after page of information, that’s a small price to pay. Democracy is worth every word in the myriad of reports and documents.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

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