Planning records will take 5-plus years to publish

Voluminous minutes of Central Planning Authority meetings, some dating to nine years ago, will not be made public for more than five years, according to a review by the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Acting Information Commissioner Jan Liebaers looked into the issue following an open records request for some planning meeting minutes from 2004 to 2007. The individual seeking the information said the rate at which the meeting minutes were being posted online was far too slow to meet the needs of public transparency.

The Planning Department is dealing with a huge number of records related to publishing meeting minutes, Mr. Liebaers noted this in his decision on the request.

“I find the department’s uploading schedule not very ambitious,” Mr. Liebaers wrote in his decision released last week. “At a rate of four sets of [planning meeting minutes] per month, it would take more than five-and-a-half years to upload the remaining 283 sets.

“I express this criticism mildly in the full knowledge that, despite its limited ambition in this particular regard, the [planning] department is acting in a spirit of openness and publishes far more records proactively than most other public authorities.”

The information commissioner noted that 544 Central Planning Authority meetings were held between 1998 and 2014, and the average number of pages per meeting is 64.

As of this month, 261 sets of meeting minutes between 2007 and 2014 were available on the planning department’s website. Another 283 sets of minutes, between 1998 and 2007, remain to be uploaded.

The planning department informed the information commissioner’s office that they set a goal of four sets of meeting minutes per month to be uploaded to the Web, a goal which Mr. Liebaers noted the department had not always met.

“Proactive publication is a positive by-product of any Freedom of Information regime,” he said. “The more records [that] are disclosed up front, the fewer formal requests under the Freedom of Information Law need to be made and processed, the more open government is, and the better informed the general public is.

“It is therefore in the interest of government and the general public to publish as much information as possible proactively.”

However, in the case of the records request submitted by the applicant, Mr. Liebaers noted that the request for immediate disclosure of all the records would create an “unreasonable diversion of public resources” as defined under the open records law.

“There is an obvious need to balance the resources required for uploading Central Planning Authority minutes to the website with other duties of the department,” he said.

“At a rate of four sets of [planning meeting minutes] per month, it would take more than five-and-a-half years to upload the remaining 283 sets.”