We hear you: Council takes action after stakeholder consultation on Openness and Transparency
| July 20, 2017
RECA’s 2016-2020 Strategic Plan focuses strongly on identifying opportunities to advance openness and transparency. In a consultation paper earlier this year, RECA put forth several concepts to expand its openness and transparency.
RECA asked for input from all industry professionals, associations, the Alberta Government, and the general public. Despite thousands individuals and groups who had an opportunity to respond, RECA received very few responses, including less than 3% of industry professionals. After carefully reviewing the consultation feedback, Council, at its July meeting, approved a number of recommendations that will increase the openness and transparency of its meetings, of RECA operations (through an Annual Meeting), and of the disciplinary process.
As a self-regulated body, if RECA is going to be transparent, then it must be fully transparent. We cannot afford to be ‘a little’ transparent. The trust and confidence of the public is a cornerstone of the industry’s success. As the industry regulator, with a mandate to protect the public, full transparency is necessary.
With that in mind, here are Council’s decisions, along with the rationale for each:
- RECA will develop a report for the Governance Committee outlining any administrative, privacy, or confidentiality issues for Council’s openness and transparency decisions.
Many of Council’s openness and transparency decisions involve privacy considerations, which RECA takes seriously. RECA is bound by the Personal Information Protection Act, and we need to ensure any policy decisions relating to openness and transparency meet privacy standards.
- RECA will post the Council meeting agenda on the RECA website a minimum of three business days prior to the meeting, beginning with the January 2018 meeting.
Every Council Meeting has an official Agenda that Council members review and approve before beginning the meeting. The agenda outlines the topics, speakers, and recommendations Council will consider at that meeting. By posting Council meeting agendas, there is greater transparency of what Council will discuss at each meeting.
- RECA will not produce an electronic record of Council Meeting proceedings
Fewer than 8% of consultation respondents indicated they would listen to an entire Council meeting audio file, and some survey respondents commented that recording meetings could limit frank discussion at the Council table. Others commented that Council meetings could be more open through the implementation of other policies contemplated in the consultation paper. With the amount of resources required to produce a Council meeting recording and post it in an annotated format, and the relatively low interest in the recording, Council will not proceed at this time.
- RECA will post Council Meeting Minutes on the RECA website after Council approves the minutes, beginning after the January 2018 meeting.
The majority of survey respondents support the posting of meeting minutes. This was one of the most supported recommendations. Council will develop new procedures to approve meeting minutes shortly after its meeting and will implement a policy for posting and related redaction policies, beginning with its January 2018 meeting.
- RECA will explore the resources needed to host on online, webinar-style annual meeting
There was broad support from consultation respondents for RECA to host an online annual meeting; however, very few stakeholders indicated an interest in actually participating. The resources required to hold such a meeting must match the demand, and Council has asked RECA administration to explore and report on the feasibility of an online annual meeting.
- RECA will post allegations of misconduct against industry professionals in advance of a hearing, beginning after its January 2018 meeting.
Feedback from industry professionals through the survey and RECA Advisory Committees indicate they do not want RECA to publish allegations in advance. However, members of the public generally supported posting allegations of misconduct in advance of a Hearing. If Council is committed to openness and transparency, and public protection, then the openness of disciplinary action and processes is a core issue.
RECA researched numerous other regulatory bodies on how they handle this issue, and many post their Notices of Hearings in advance, including allegations.
Council appreciates that industry members have reputational concerns with publishing a Notice of Hearing and allegations if there is no finding of conduct deserving of sanction. However, since RECA’s inception, our experience tells us that files that proceed to hearing result in a finding of conduct deserving of sanction nearly 100% of the time.
We estimate this change will affect 10 people this year. RECA will not post complaints, nor will we post any other discipline that has not gone through the rigorous investigatory and legal processes that result in a scheduled Hearing.
By the time a matter arrives at a Hearing, it has already had a full investigation with interviews and review of documentation. At this point, RECA lawyers in Conduct Proceedings have reviewed the investigation files and the affected industry professional’s legal representation has already been involved. Only serious matters make it through this process and end up at a hearing. Publishing Notices of Hearing is not the same as publishing complaint information or publishing allegations prior to issuing a Letter of Reprimand or Administrative Penalty, which are by far the most common forms of discipline. Less than 1% of complaints ever make it to a Hearing. Additionally, every matter in the last fiscal year that went to a Hearing resulted in conduct deserving of sanction.
- Council will post a list of upcoming hearings, including the date, location, and time, beginning after its January 2018 meeting.
Despite RECA hearings always being open to the public, a member of the public or an interested industry professional attending is rare, as the dates and location of hearings are not published. In an era of increasing openness and transparency, posting the upcoming Hearings will improve industry professional and consumer access to RECA disciplinary proceeding information.
- RECA will remove the restrictions on publication of information related to discipline, beginning after the January 2018 meeting. This includes:
– Information Hearing and Appeal panels had access to when making their decisions
– Amended Publication Guidelines that will remove publication restrictions on RECA’s website and other communications vehicles.
Consumer respondents to the consultation were strongly in favour of removing publication restrictions, and industry professionals, broadly speaking, were not. The move towards removing the restriction supports greater transparency and openness. Disciplinary decisions are available, upon request, from the RECA office in perpetuity; it is simply publishing them that ends after two years. By continuing to make decisions available on the RECA website, Council facilitates better information sharing. These decisions can continue to serve as a general deterrent, and demonstrate Council’s ongoing commitment to consumer protection.
Over the next six months, RECA administration and Council will develop the supporting policies and frameworks to implement these openness and transparency initiatives. These specific initiatives are part of the journey towards greater openness and transparency, not the final destination. Council will continue to make openness and transparency a priority throughout its current strategic plan. Stakeholders should watch for more opportunities to provide feedback going forward.