Open Municipal Government Toolkit – Access to Information and Protection of Privacy
Access to information is a key concept associated with open government. By routinely disclosing municipal records, information is open and available for public review and discussion. By sharing bylaws, policies and procedures, Council demonstrates transparency and accountability which increases citizen confidence in decision making. Limiting access to municipal records may raise public questions about accountability and transparency in municipal operations or Council decision making.
Section 147 of the Municipal Government Act requires each municipality to enact an Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bylaw. A model Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Bylaw will be prepared for use by municipalities in the future. The sample bylaw will help establish how your municipality approaches disclosing municipal records and information.
Citizens have the right to inspect or review certain municipal records. Your municipality must have a process where individuals or groups can request access to specific records. These requests must be submitted to an appropriate staff member such as the Chief Administrative Officer. This person will need to understand and apply the rules for dealing with access requests and excluding personal information.
By referring access to information requests to the designated staff person, Council members promote transparency while protecting privacy and confidentiality.
Disclosure of Municipal Records
Municipal records should be available for public inspection during regular office hours. Your municipal website should clearly identify when and where municipal records are available for public inspection so that individuals are aware that they can review these records if they so wish. This information provides the public an opportunity to review municipal information if they have questions or concerns.
Council must allow public inspection of records relating to:
- assessment information;
- approved financial plans, annual financial statements and auditor reports;
- bylaws that have received first reading;
- Council agendas, minutes, resolutions and relevant information that was taken into consideration in the decision;
- issued permits and approvals;
- council member remuneration and expenses;
- strategic plan;
- grants and donations;
- Contracts except those that may jeopardize an individual’s safety or harm the competitive position or negotiating position of the municipality; and
- Other documents tabled or adopted at an open meeting of Council or council committee (with some restrictions).
As a best practice, many municipal records should be posted on the official website of your municipality and updated on a regular basis.
Proactive Disclosure and Websites
Information can be made readily available thanks to advances in technology. Posting information on your municipal website means that it can be accessed by everyone at their convenience.
Proactive disclosure and open dissemination of information through technology demonstrates Council’s commitment to transparency, accessibility and accountability. By having access to information, both citizens and Council benefit.
Council Agendas and Minutes
Proactively disclosing Council and council committee minutes, agenda packages, reports and financial statements on a routine basis demonstrates a commitment to keep citizens informed.
As a best practice, agendas and reports should be made available in advance of the Council or committee meeting. The Town of Kensington publishes the Council agenda package which includes the minutes of the previous meeting, reports and other relevant material (https://kensington.ca/council-agendas/). The Town of Kensington website also specifies when the agenda package will be posted.
Many PEI municipalities post Council minutes on their website. Best practice is to post minutes once they have been formally ratified. The Town of Kensington includes a disclaimer indicating that the minutes on their website are for reference only and that true copies are available by contacting the Town.
Confidentiality and Protection of Privacy
While Council should make every effort to pro-actively disclose municipal records, some records and information must remain confidential.
Council, council committee members and staff may be provided with:
- personal information;
- confidential information about a third party; or
- confidential information relating to municipal operations, such as labour relations, contract negotiations, legal or enforcement actions.
This information is confidential and must not be:
- shared or disclosed, orally, by email or social media, in writing or by copying documents; or
- used for individual benefit or the benefit of a family member or a close associate.
In addition, Council members must not disclose information acquired at a closed meeting.
Specifically, Council members must not disclose any information:
- subject to solicitor-client privilege;
- about legal proceedings;
- about an investigation or enforcement of a bylaw or Act;
- about human resource matters;
- about commercial matters which, if disclosed, may be prejudicial to your municipality or involved parties;
- received in confidence which, if disclosed, may be prejudicial to your municipality or the parties involved;
- about a matter under consideration, where Council has not announced a decision, and discussion in public may jeopardize the municipality’s ability to negotiate;
- that may prejudice security and the maintenance of law;
- containing personal details that are protected under the Municipal Government Act.
Developing a Confidentiality Policy is one way that a municipality can safeguard confidential information and records. This policy outlines your municipality’s expectations around confidentiality including the requirement that Council members, council committee members and staff (including volunteers) sign an agreement to abide by the Confidentiality Policy. The Confidentiality Policy also identifies requirements about keeping records, information and devices secure.
Municipalities have a responsibility to protect privacy. No personal information may be disclosed. Disclosing personal information, such as contact information, gender or sexual orientation, marital status, ethnic, employment or educational background, business or financial interests, is a breach of privacy.
The Guide to Privacy has been developed as a hand-out to provide members of Council general information about protecting privacy and the need to keep Council records secure and confidential.
Guide to Proactive Disclosure (pdf)
Guide to Open Government Websites (pdf)
Confidentiality Policy Template (Macro-Enabled Word)
Confidentiality Policy Template (Word)
Confidentiality Agreement (Macro-Enabled Word)
Confidentiality Agreement (Word)
Privacy Guide for Councillors (pdf)