Blackout: City manager cuts off live feed of Nanaimo council meeting

By Dominic Abassi
January 11, 2018 - 11:34am

There's not much to see at the four-hour mark of the video of the Jan. 8 meeting.City of Nanaimo

NANAIMO — A "substantial loss of decorum" was behind the city manager's decision to pull the plug on the live feed of a recent Nanaimo council meeting.

During the Jan. 8 committee of the whole meeting, city manager Tracy Samra ordered the online live stream of the meeting cut off. The archive version of the meeting showed the screen fade to black for a little less than three minutes before video and then audio returned.

In his opening remark to a delegation, coun. Gord Fuller said "I love it when people come up to the podium and threaten me."

After roughly a minute of speaking, mayor Bill McKay asked Fuller if he had a question for the delegation.

"Yes I do," Fuller said to the mayor. "If you could please bear with me, otherwise I'll have to make a motion to censure you, to remove you as chair."

At that point, Samra and her staff members stood up and began to leave the room. A member of the audience shouted out at Fuller, who yelled back into the gallery. Roughly three minutes later, Fuller and the delegation began speaking over each other in a back-and-forth.

At that point, the video feed cut to black, about three minutes after staff left the room.

During question period at the end of the meeting, a member of the public asked Council if there was a policy for cutting the online feed of a meeting.

"Not that I'm aware of," McKay said, directing the question to Samra.

"Under the new protocol, when decorum has been lost in the meeting and staff leave...during that time, there's no official recording of a meeting," Samra said.

"News to me," McKay said, adding he was not aware the feed had been cut.

In an email to NanaimoNewsNOW on Wednesday, Samra said McKay failed to enforce "an agreed upon approach" to call a recess when decorum is lost.

"Finally, the City is not required to video record, broadcast or live-stream Council meetings. In other words, neither the Community Charter nor the Procedure Bylaw obligate the City to record meetings," Samra said.

She did not answer questions about the wording in the protocol around her responsibility to stop the live video, what the criteria is for making the call or what specific problems the City could face by leaving the video feed on.

Dermod Travis, executive director of non-profit political watchdog IntegrityBC, said the City needs a clear, written policy on how to address specific examples that might come up.

"And not abuse a policy in order to block the public from seeing something either the staff or councillors don't want the public to see because it doesn't make them look good," Travis said.

"For better or worse, the public and voters should see exactly how their council is operating. If the City is concerned about expletives or other messages getting out, they could delay it by several seconds. But to arbitrarily decide the public shouldn't see something, that some at the meeting do see, is not a call anyone other than the chair should make."

Travis said given the amount of cynicism and frustration in the community surrounding Nanaimo's Council and administration, steps need to be taken not to feed into that.

"When you have individuals who want to jump to the worst of all conclusions, you don't want to feed that, you want to be above that. Certainly cutting the feed is not above that."

An online comment from a citizen also raised concerns over accessibility for people with mobility challenges.

"As a legally blind citizen, it is very hard for me to get to meetings in the winter...All citizens deserve the chance to watch their elected citizens at work," the post said.

Coun. Fuller, who has long advocated for transparency, fought against in-camera meetings and recently said he wanted to see "all committee meetings filmed," did not respond to a request for comment.

Posting of the archive version of the video was delayed while the City completed a review to "minimize any potential liability." Samra said the video was not altered or redacted in any way.


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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