A City Council which is open and honest, this is the goal of local resident, Larry Walker. He has no bone to pick with any of the City Councillors but is concerned about decisions which are made behind closed doors.
“I’m seeking honesty in government. I’m seeking openness of government is what I’m looking for and I will not tolerate anything but a fair and open government at any level,” said Walker.
He explained he wants the Council to act responsibly. He believes elected officials need to be able to discuss and debate certain items in camera. However, they should have to vote on these items in the public portion of that same meeting because these involve the direct or indirect expenditure of public/taxpayers funds. This way they can and will be held accountable for their decisions made behind closed doors.
“How you vote is a reflection of your values and your conscience,” said Walker. “It gives me an inkling of how I perceive each elected official and how well they are representing what I feel is right.”
He is also concerned that closed meetings could have a habit of snowballing. If a decision is made to move the wrong items behind closed doors once, the second time becomes easier.
Walker went through a long process with the District of Kitimat and the Provincial Privacy Commissioner’s Office to finally secure these minutes of closed meetings relating to the Dismissal of Trafford Hall. He noted that it took him about a year and a half to get it and if he had been unsuccessful in these negotiations, he was more than willing to go up to the Supreme Court of British Columbia to get this information.
“My next step after this is to try and change the Provincial Government’s position or lack of position on this segment of the act,” said Walker.
Although he certain how successful he will be, Walker is going to take this to various MLA’s around the province. Walker has already raised this item with the bureaucracy in the ministry but was told that if he sent a letter on this subject in, the letter might make it to the minister when the pile gets big enough and then the minister might do something about it. This was not satisfactory in his eyes and he felt that a "top-down" approach might offer greater results.
Is there a problem with closed meetings?
A recent example is the decision to invest further taxpayer dollars in Shames Mountain. Kitimat Council has already invested $15,000 and a further $15,000 came up during the recent budget.
However, as the Municipal Manager, Ron Poole had information on this topic for the Councillors, it went In Camera. The vote was similarly held In Camera. Voters who do not know which Councillors were in favour or opposed to motion are unable to take their concerns to the Councillors, nor does the public know the reasons why a decision was made to spend Kitimat Taxpayer Money on Terrace.
A similar event is the controversy around Former Municipal Manager Trafford Hall. The people of Kitimat were told the decision was mutual by Mayor Joanne Monaghan. Then she and Former Councillor Randy Halyk hinted, during the 2011 election, they had no choice but to pay his severance.
Walker was able to get the in-camera minutes from this period and they tell a different story. While the original motion was to part mutually, two weeks later, Council came back and terminated his contract without cause.
Unfortunately, the intent of the motion is not present in the minutes and as a part of the motion, the City Councillors are not allowed to discuss the details of it. However, stating the decision was mutual when it was terminated without cause still misleads the public.
The Municipal Charter states only certain business can be in closed meetings. The list includes:- Personal information about employees
- Information about people being nominated for awards
- Labour relations
- Municipal land
- Administration tribunal hearings
- Privileged information
- Information prohibited by the Freedom of Information and Privacy act
- Negotiations relating to municipal services
- Discussions over municipal objectives
- Consideration as to whether an item in a meeting should be closed to the public
The full list of items can be found here: http://www.bclaws.ca/EPLibraries/bclaws_new/document/LOC/freeside/%20C%20
At the last two Council Meetings, decisions about whether or not items should go In Camera were an issue. Two new City Councillors were informed they could not take certain items behind closed doors while Veteran Councillors decided to take items In Camera for further information.
Of course the community will probably never know what goes on in City Hall behind closed doors when the motions relate to big items. Particularly in the case where our leaders choose to mislead the public, as in the case of Hall.