Lack of In-camera Information = Lack of Transparency?

In its January 2012 Report, TOWN OF AMHERSTBURG – “BEHIND CLOSED DOORS,” the Ombudsman stated, paragraph 73:

“In my view, the council’s resolutions authorizing closed sessions, which were reviewed during this investigation were deficient and failed to provide adequate notice to the public, as well as individual members of council, as to the nature of the proposed subject matter and the justification for having an in camera meeting.”

Council’s resolutions today typically cite the applicable Municipal Act section; the June 28, 2021 SPECIAL IN-CAMERA COUNCIL MEETING Resolution# 20210628-210:

That Council move into an In-Camera Meeting of Council at 3: 34 p.m. pursuant to Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001, as amended for the following reasons:

Item A – Section 239(2)(d) – Labour relations or employee negotiations; and, Section 239(2)(f) – Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.

Item B – Section 239(2)(f) – Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.

Item C – Section 239(2)(i) – A trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information, supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board, which, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to prejudice significantly the competitive position, or interfere significantly with the contractual or other negotiations of a person, group of persons, or organization.

Item D – Section 239(2)(c) – A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of the land by the municipality or local board.

Clerk Valerie Critchley’s Response:

Regarding the In Camera Minutes, you noted examples from June 28, 2021, August 8, 2021, August 16, 2021, August 25, 2021, September 13, 2021, September 16, 2021, November 16, 2021 and December 13, 2021. I would note that the November 16, 2021 and December 13, 2021 minutes have not yet been approved by Council and will be on an upcoming Agenda.

With respect to the other meetings, s. 239(4)  of the Municipal Act  states that:

s. 239(4) Before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a municipality shall state by resolution:

(a)   the fact of the holding of the closed meeting and the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting.

As a result, Notice is given in the manner that you have set out below and a resolution is passed which cites the allowable exception pursuant to the Municipal Act which the Municipality is relying on to move camera. That allowable exception also serves to provide the “general nature of the matter to be considered”.

Further, sections 239(5) (6) and (7)  Municipal Act states as follows:

s. 239(5) Subject to subsection (6), a meeting shall not be closed to the public during the taking of a vote;

s. 239(6) Despite section 244, a meeting may be closed to the public during the taking of a vote if,

(a) subsection (2) or (3) permits or requires the meeting to be closed to the public; and

(b) the vote is for a procedural matter or for giving directions or instructions to officers, employees or agents of the municipality, local board or committee or either of them or persons retained by or under a contract with the municipality or local board.

VOTE October 24, 2022 – hold candidates accountable.

Councillor Prue Supports Routine Disclosure Policy

As mentioned in the April 11 post, Amherstburg Clerk And Mayor Respond to Routine Disclosure Policy Request, any action undertaken by council about the April 12 consent correspondence item would be posted.

Councillor Prue is the only one who supported and spoke about the request for the policy. He reminded members of council that during the last election, they all said we need more openness and citizen involvement.

Prue mentioned it has been a recommendation of the province since 1998 and the request was made here more than a year ago.

Prue’s question was, when might we expect this policy improvement so that people no longer have to go through the arduous, time consuming and costly efforts of freedom of information requests which they almost always get after a year or two?

Paula Parker, town clerk, stated she agreed, however, indicated the town does already provide active dissemination of its records through its records repository which is publicly available on the town’s website and it reaches back to about 1950s. She advised the Clerk’s division is focused on remediating that content before continuing to expand its offerings.

Regardless, a policy will be presented to council in the near future.

Amherstburg Clerk And Mayor Respond to Routine Disclosure Policy Request

Is COVID a convenient excuse, again?

Amherstburg town clerk Paula Parker responded to the request for the policy to be placed on the April 12 agenda and stated, in part, “Unfortunately, COVID-19 has impacted our services somewhat and this policy, as well as others, have been set aside for the time being until we get back to some sort of normal operations.”

It was in February 2020 that the CAO advised the town was in the process of creating one, prior to any COVID impacts. While I realize COVID has been credited as the cause of some delay for some items, it would be fairly simple for council to enact a policy such as this.

Members of council were then asked to confirm whether or not council has directed administration to create this policy.

Mayor DiCarlo was the only one to respond, “This policy is being created as part of ongoing policy review of all of the town’s policies, not from a specific council direction.  There are policies being reviewed, edited and created to address long outstanding backlogs, a direct result of resource issues.”

The request for the policy has been placed under the consent correspondence agenda section.

Any action undertaken by council will be updated.

Amherstburg Needs Routine Disclosure Policy

Following the post, A Year Later, No Town Policy Re Routine Requests For Information, a second request to council is on its April 12 agenda: for council to adopt the Information and Privacy Commissioner recommended Routine Disclosure and Active Dissemination Policy, revised in 1998.

Why do we need this policy? Because in the spirit of accountability and transparency, it is my opinion that not every request needs to be a formal freedom of information request.

The Information and Privacy Commissioner encourages municipalities and has produced, with the City of Mississauga, a resource, Routine Disclosure/Active Dissemination A Best Practice in the City of Mississauga.

Also from the IPC website:

Open Government

Open Government is based on the core belief that the public has the right to access the records and proceedings of government to enable greater openness, accountability, and engagement.  Its goals are to:

  • improve the quality of governance and services by becoming sustainably more transparent, more accountable, and more responsive to the public and
  • enable the public to make better and more informed decisions, resulting in an improvement to the quality of their lives

The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario has long stressed the need for enhanced public access to government-held information.  Accordingly, it is a strong supporter of Open Government.

The IPC encourages all institutions under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to determine how they can begin or expand their Open Government activities.  Our office is actively offering resources and support to institutions embracing this more open approach.