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What you need to know about COVID-19: August 11, 2020
In response to the editorial ‘Un-public meeting” published in the Telegram on June 18, I would like to offer some clarification and perspective on the city’s public engagement work and consideration of protection of privacy.
Providing a safe space for participants to give the city their feedback is a tenet of good public engagement practice. The city’s public engagement policy notes that “a culture of trust and respect between city hall and those with whom it interacts” is key.
For every public engagement process the city carries out, members of the public should feel comfortable that they can participate in ways that work for them and that the feedback they provide will not be attributed to them in public documents. We respect their privacy.
Therefore, our current practice is to encourage people to speak without having to disclose their personal information, including their name, and we do not ask for their consent to disclose it outside of the engagement session. Without their consent, we have a responsibility to protect their privacy which includes not allowing media to record and asking them not to publish names.
Ahead of the city’s first ‘virtual’ public engagement session since the COVID-19 pandemic, a list of guidelines was provided to media planning to attend.
The purpose of these guidelines is: to allow the media to report on the engagement session in a way that respects the members of the public attending, their right to privacy and their right to participate in a public engagement session in a comfortable setting; and to provide media with the option to listen and observe the discussion and follow up with requests for interviewing participants and/or a member of council (city spokesperson).
The editorial stated that it is a “strange set of rules” and compares the rules for public engagement sessions with the rules for covering the court of law. This is not a fair comparison.
Members of the general public who register to participate in a city engagement session are not on trial, nor giving testimony, and deserve to have a choice on whether or not they would like their name and opinion to be highlighted in the newspaper, radio, online or evening news.
The editorial also failed to differentiate between a legislated ‘public meeting’ and a city led ‘public engagement session.’
Public meetings and commissioner’s hearings are regulated by legislation and guidelines are strictly followed; although personal information is collected, participants are still entitled to their privacy and should not be quoted in media without their consent.
As for city-led engagement sessions, we have consistently spoken to media who attend, noting the process being used and asking that they approach individuals directly if they are interested in interviewing someone who attends.
As these sessions are often in person, this has worked well to allow participants to fully engage in a safe space and for media to follow up and connect with them if they want to have someone on record.
If media pull content from the engagement sessions, they can use it in reporting. But for members of the public, they have the right to choose whether or not their name and opinion on a city issue will be quoted as part of a news story.
We, too, value the role media can play in helping inform the public about the topic.
The virtual engagement sessions for sidewalk snow clearing were designed in the same way and to say otherwise is simply untrue.
During the recent sidewalk snow clearing engagement session, The Telegram reporter’s presence was announced, and it was noted that if anyone wanted to speak to the media, the city would provide the contact information.
As well, the reporter provided her contact information in the chat box for people, and staff sent those who attended the reporter’s contact information in a follow up e-mail one hour after the session.
Public engagement, by its very nature, is meant to provide opportunity for constructive conversation.
Creating a safe space for dialogue respects the members of the public who volunteer their time to participate, as well as the staff who facilitate the event.
If media pull content from the engagement sessions, they can use it in reporting.
But for members of the public, they have the right to choose whether or not their name and opinion on a city issue will be quoted as part of a news story.
Mayor Danny Breen,