Meetings? or workshops?

We read with great interest the article this morning in the CH in which a rookie councillor asked an intriguing question. When is a meeting not a meeting?

Jennifer Watts says rules regarding meetings at Halifax city hall, which potentially affect transparency in the decision-making process, are cloudy at best.

And the first-term councillor wants to know this: when does a gathering of municipal politicians constitute an official meeting of regional council? Should informal, educational sessions with elected officials and others be open to the public?

Watts, who represents Connaught-Quinpool, said Saturday that she’d like Halifax Regional Municipality’s staff to clarify regulations concerning meetings between councillors, proponents of various projects, community interest groups and city employees. [read more]

We hope she gets an answer better than the one offered here in Wolfville where a similar question has been asked. If you recall Mr Daniels was puzzled about what appeared to be an unjustified in camera meeting. We did a post on it at the time. Here, excavated and dusted off from the archives is an excerpt from that post in which Mr. Daniels describes his experience.

I arrived at the Town Hall Monday night, July 16, just about 7:30 p.m., for the scheduled Town Council monthly meeting. Instead of going right into the meeting room, there were several individuals milling around outside. Perhaps the meeting was going to be held outside, given it was a beautiful evening.

In a few minutes, the front doors opened. I was told that the Audit committee had been meeting with the Town auditor. I didn’t recall seeing any notice of such meeting posted on the Town’s website under Calendar of Events, where I check for upcoming events. (I looked at the website when I returned home after the meeting, and no meeting of the Audit Committee was posted. Also, there is no listing of the Audit Committee meeting in the Upcoming Meeting/Events section of June 18th and July 3rd Council Meeting Agendas.)

Apparently, part or all of the meeting with the auditor was closed to the public.

And then a bit further down in that same post:

This incident reminded me of another procedural matter. In late June or early July the Town’s Sustainable Community Task Force (the ‘Task Force’) met with individuals who had carried out the public survey, and the public was excluded. At a subsequent Town Council meeting I asked under what authority had the Task Force meeting been closed to the public. Deputy Mayor Wrye said it had been closed under a provision of the MGA. By email I informed the Deputy Mayor that I had reviewed the MGA and could find no authority which would permit the Task Force meeting to be closed to the public. Did I miss something? At the meeting of the Task Force held on July 4th, the Deputy Mayor answered my question by stating that after consulting with the Town’s Counsel, it was concluded that since the MGA does not define what a ‘meeting’ is, that the closed gathering of the Task Force was not a ‘meeting’ at all, but a ‘workshop’ and therefore was not required to comply with the MGA’s open ‘meeting’ requirement.

So then the legislation (MGA) on closed meetings is meaningless and unenforceable in law?

Actually we have done a number of posts on this subject to no avail. Here’s another one!

But of course the real issue is what it tells us – voters and taxpayers – about the character and openness of the people who govern us. What do they have to hide?

There are none so deaf as those who do not wish to hear.


One response to “Meetings? or workshops?

  1. Tim Chandler

    It seems municipalities often host closed (or invite only) sessions to gather feedback from a select group of people on a particular issue. The audience is usually made up of key “stakeholders” who would only represent a few perspectives. I expect these stakeholders are selected by staff who I’m sure are doing their best to select a fair cross section, but could easily include or exclude anyone who might make the gathering take a particular direction.

    These invite only meetings are later claimed as part of the public’s participation, which is ironic. Wolfville does a great job of accepting comments on their website, and holding open houses and so on, but I figure at that point, it might be too late to suggest a change, after the stakeholders and local experts have sorted all the issues out behind closed doors in a “workshop”

    Does this result in poor decisions or bad buildings? Not always, but it does seem a bit unfair.