News / Calgary

'Should be higher-tech:' Calgary council data lags behind

Jurisdictions like Toronto and Edmonton publish databases with information for the public to spelunk through while Calgary's council still votes on civic with pencil and paper

Calgary's data nerds, and civically engaged citizens could benefit from a digitized meeting database.

Jennfier Friesen / For Metro

Calgary's data nerds, and civically engaged citizens could benefit from a digitized meeting database.

Data miners say Calgary's meeting minutes create an extra stumbling block in transparency when compared to other jurisdictions.

As council moves toward paperless agendas and new procedural bylaws, the city still hasn't made moves to digitize decisions in a format constituents could easily search in the city's online open data portal.

City's like Edmonton and Toronto have been giving the public digital access to voting records, attendance and other metrics for more than five years. In Edmonton, as a vote is recorded, it's flashed on the screen overhead for the gallery to see, depicting councillor's chairs and their for or against votes. Those metrics are available at the same time as meeting minutes.

As it stands, organizations like the Manning Foundation sift through hundreds of minutes, sometimes spotting errors or missing information, just to find out what issues councillors were voting on, what their attendance was like and how much time was spent in-camera.

"We would suggest the solution to that would be digital vote-tracking," said Manning Centre researcher Peter McCaffrey. "That allows for people to go in and look up the votes of councillors much more easily, it allows researchers to do much more analysis, and also expands the data that's available."

Coun. Shane Keating said he thinks having a recorded vote on every vote is a "great idea" and could easily be done by pushing yea or nay on a screen.

"It should be digitalized, our council chambers should be higher-tech," he said.

Keating said he's not sure how many citizens would use a digital database but knows there are members of the public who have a keen interest on which way their councillors vote.

"I don't think it's reasonable to expect members of the public to go in and read 400-page minutes and agendas of the council to see how their member of council voted," McCaffrey said.

Coun. Gian-Carlo Carra said he's in support of moving toward a digitized system but is unsure what the hold up is.

"I'm under the impression we're just moving in aggravatingly slow-motion as we modernize our processes," Carra said. "I certainly don't think there's anyone who is trying to suppress that from happening."

Keating said sometimes it takes councillor instruction to move administration toward a new system. And he said he's willing to ask the city to move forward on changes.

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