Monday, July 25, 2016

More In-Camera Meetings Now Than Before

Open and transparent --- just an election slogan?

Local council-watcher and engaged citizen, Robert Fuller posted the following on Facebook recently. He was looking into the number of in-camera meetings where city business is conducted away from the prying eyes of either the media or citizens. Granted, there are legitimate reasons for conducting some business behind closed doors but the trend seems contrary to the advice of the provincial ombudsperson.

On another note, it appears that this council is once again having information meetings with staff to go over agenda items on the upcoming council meetings. While I am told they are not the same as what was once referred to as 'rehearshals' I am always a little 'antsy' when there is the appearance of council possibly making decisions without oversight.

A few years back, and under the administration of Mayor Ruttan, I remember sitting in on a presentation from the provincial ombudsperson. While the councillors of the day seemed to me like they were paying attention she explained that all meetings held by governments should be as open as feasibly possible. Play it forward a few years later, why is it that the use of in camera meeting to conduct city business is on the increase? More legal mumbo jumbo? Less oversight on the part of our elected officials on the reasoning to move meetings behind closed doors? Just plain blind support of city staff wishes to do so? Good eats (hopefully just kidding)?

To prove my point I went back through the archive of council meetings and was rather dumbstruck by what I found. During the council under Mr John Ruttan and from July 23, 2013 to July 21, 2014 there were a total of thirty six, 36, in camera council meetings. Seems like a lot folks, doesn't it? But hold onto your hats! During the present council's tenure and from July 27, 2015 to July 25, 2016 there were forty seven, yep 47, in camera meetings. Quite the jump don't you think! Has the notion of transparency fallen on deaf ears? Do these folks even care?

The Community Charter, section 90 (1,2,3), has a list of 15 reasons as to why a meeting may, key word MAY, be closed to the public. It just appears that these principles are applied so loosely, that at the drop of a hat, if one so desired, that one MAY proceed in camera with virtually any reason. When are our governors going to take a stand enmass to insure the principals of transparency and openess when conducting our business? Why even bandy about these words, more often than not at election time, when they are not to be adhered to? Perhaps the premise that until a meeting can be determined that it MUST, rather than MAY, be in camera then the meeting and the business conducted SHOULD be open to the public!

Robert Fuller



  1. There is only one way to stop unnecessary incamera meetings. Pass a bylaw requiring that all incamera meetings must be recorded (video preferred but at a minimum a complete audio recording) or the meeting cannot be held incamera. The idea is that there is then a complete record of what was/is discussed and decided on incamera and when these records are released (which should be as soon as the minutes are released and redacted where and when necessary or to a court if legal proceedings are started) if there is any business which was conducted behind closed doors but did not need to be it would be open for the public to take the appropriate action, be that legal or voting for other candidates at election time or both. I have an idea that this requirement would also go a long way to improving decorum and conduct at meetings. What these politicians have to understand and accept is the fact that they are working for the public not a private employer. The provincial government should also be lobbied to make changes to the Community Charter to reflect this concept and include severe consequences for breach of this requirement.
    Cliff Marcil

  2. I tried exactly what you are stating at a presentation to council last year Cliff. It fell on deaf ears. At this time I see little will on council to push this forward and dollars to donuts probably little will on the behalf of any other council in the province. Fully agree with what you say. Perhaps, just perhaps the Community Charter needs an overhaul!
    Robert Fuller


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