Perhaps some people have noticed the number of in camera meetings of
Council in the last few years. Our intrepid local “Lois Lane”
certainly has. She questioned the number of them as far back as Jan of 2003. They used to be a rare event she commented and now they are at the bottom of almost every agenda.
The response was that there were more legal, personnel and land acquisition
issues to deal with than before and they were only held to discuss matters allowed by the Municipal Act. Why there should be more of these issues in recent years wasn’t explained.
The Chief Administrative Officer confirmed that the Municipal Government Act requires a stipulation in the regular meeting of minutes of Council if Council goes In Camera, and whether the matter is a legal issue, personnel issue, or land acquisition issue. Although no minutes are required, when Council comes out of an In Camera Session if there is any further discussion or motions to deal with they will appear in the minutes.
It hasn’t changed since then. There are still many in camera sessions and sometimes what kind of issue was discussed is not noted in the minutes so we have no idea whether it fell under the Act or not. There seems to be continued unease on the part of some.
From May 2004 minutes COUNCIL BRIEFINGS –
The Chief Administrative Officer referred members to copies of the law report entitled “City of Yellowknife Property Owners Association, Applicant and the Municipal Corporation of the City of Yellowknife”. This is a summary of the case and action brought against the City of Yellowknife by the Yellowknife Property Owners Association who charged that the City Council held In Camera meetings contrary to Section 21 and 22 of the Cities Town’s and Villages Act, RS Northwest Territories 1988. The Northwest Territories Supreme Court rendered a decision in favour of the applicant and against the City of Yellowknife.
Deputy Mayor Wrye suggested that this information should nevertheless not preclude our Council from holding informal meetings to discuss such topics as visioning.
Why this case was brought to the attention of Council by the CAO is not clear to us.
The issue of the legality of certain in-camera meetings came up again in March 2005
Councillor MacKay noted that at the end of the March 7 Committee of Council Meeting there was an In Camera session to discuss compensation plans for non-unionized employees, the Chief Administrative Officer, as well as Council honorariums, and then Council returned to the regular session. He questioned the legality of presenting the Council Compensation plan ‘in camera’ rather than in a public session of Council. He further stated that he was opposed to the size of the proposed honorarium increases and that every member of Council was aware of the level of honorariums when they ran for office. Mayor Stead informed him that the opinion of the Town Solicitor has been requested on this matter.
We know what the answer was. Further discussions of the Council
Honorariums were not held in camera and large increases were avoided as
a result of public pressure and the votes of some wise councillors.
It seems to us that, often, concerns expressed by organisations for
individual privacy, work against open government and serve neither the
individual nor the community well.