Lawyers to review council conduct 

Council has asked for a legal opinion on how they are conducting some of their business at municipal hall.

The move came at the request of Councillor Marianne Wade during Monday’s regular council meeting.

Wade asked that municipal solicitors review council’s procedure bylaw and come back with options on how council can conduct their afternoon briefing sessions and workshops with staff, among other things.

Wade would like the solicitors to determine if council is abiding by the true intent of the Community Charter. Ultimately, she would like to open up council’s discussions, which are not behind closed doors, to the public.

"I think the public should have the right to come and listen to the debate or discussion or questions so that people are informed," she said this week. "You can’t necessarily do it all in the evening sessions."

Her request sparked an interesting debate at the council table, with four councillors supporting her request, one speaking out against it, and Mayor Hugh O’Reilly remaining silent for the most part.

Councillor Ken Melamed argued council needs to have a place where sensitive issues are discussed away from the public eye.

"We have a great sensitivity… to keeping things as open as possible," he said.

Councillor Kristi Wells did not agree though she said it’s important for council to have time to brainstorm without the public or media present.

"We don’t include the public as much as we could," she said.

"We’re pushing the edge (of staying within the law of the Charter) and we all know it."

After the council meeting O’Reilly dismissed the claim that council was "pushing the edge." He said council is doing business the same way they have always done business.

"You need to have the ability to have frank discussion and share information," he said. "You have to be able to throw ideas out."

He doesn’t know where the answer lies but there could be changes in the November elections which will provide the answer.

"There’s going to be a new council in the fall," he said. "They’ll look at it, in my opinion. They’ll look at how they want to do it. There are some other models out there that still give you some flexibility and they all have pros and cons."

The Community Charter came into force on Jan. 1, 2004. Under the Charter councils are required to have a procedure bylaw which sets out, among other things, the rules and regulations for public council meetings and closed door sessions. Whistler’s procedure bylaw was updated when the Charter came into effect.

"The Charter gives us a significant amount of flexibility," said Councillor Nick Davies.

Though he supported Wade’s request in the end, he questioned her methods of bringing it forward to council.

He explained that he didn’t so much have a difficulty with what she was trying to do, rather the way it was being done, without any prior notice of the motion.

Councillor Caroline Lamont reminded him, however, that earlier this year he used the same method to ask council for $20,000 to support an airport study. That request was not supported.

On Monday night, however, council did approve the request for a legal opinion on council procedures.

Municipal lawyers will now review the procedure bylaw and present council with their opinion.

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