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Council to open afternoon meetings to public

Municipal lawyer clarifies procedural bylaw

With fresh clarity on their procedural bylaw, council has opted to open their afternoon staff briefing sessions to the public.

Those briefing sessions will now be treated just like regular council meetings, with published agendas, minutes of the meetings and room for the press and the public to attend.

The decision came on the heels of a presentation from municipal lawyer Donald Lidstone at the last council meeting on Sept. 6, where he outlined council’s choices for including the public when it comes to meetings.

"I think that your procedure has to reflect your community’s interests," said Lidstone.

Councillors made their decision in the wake of public criticism over the way they have handled the Paralympic arena decision to date and how they neglected to engage the community in those discussions throughout the summer.

Lidstone explained that council has three choices laid out in the Community Charter when it comes to meeting as a group. There are open council meetings such as the regular evening sessions. There are private meetings, or in camera meetings, where council can discuss topics such as employee/labour issues, or sale of land negotiations or information from the solicitor. The guidelines for what can be discussed in the in camera meetings are outlined in section 70 of the Community Charter.

The last type of meeting is a staff briefing session, where there is no public notice of the meeting, no public attendance and where staff or consultants provide information to council.

Council, on such occasions, is not allowed to give any direction to staff. Council members are also not allowed to discuss or debate matters, just receive information and ask questions for clarity.

Councillor Marianne Wade, who asked for Lidstone’s legal opinion at a July council meeting, said she was concerned council was not conducting its staff briefing sessions in the way the lawyer described.

She then asked council to open the afternoon briefing sessions to the public as a tool to move forward with agenda items over the next three months.

"It allows the community to be engaged," Wade said at the Sept. 6 meeting.

Councillor Ken Melamed did not agree, nor did the mayor.

Melamed said even the press would be hard pressed to sit through the agonizing hours of council debate that happen before the evening sessions.

Mayor Hugh O’Reilly would have preferred to keep the meetings of this council the same as they have been and let the new council decide how they will proceed.

Councillor Kristi Wells said she did not think council could self-police well enough to stick to the law outlined in the Community Charter over the three months before the Nov. 19 election.

In the end council agreed there will be a special council meeting on Sept. 19 which will begin at 2 p.m. and will be open to members of the public. The meeting will last until 5:30 p.m. at which time there will be a dinner break. The regular council meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m.