There were two in-camera meetings last night, one which I refused to attend, based on what I read in the confidential material presented to council before the meeting.
I protested in the open session of council about the appropriateness of holding the discussion in secret. This council is far more willing - even seeming eager at times - to meet behind closed doors than any other council I've watched or been part of. I thought we should try, just once, to be more open, when the issue offered us that opportunity.
While I cannot break my oath and reveal the subject of the meeting, I can comment on why I didn't believe it was appropriate.
First, the subject of the discussion and the individual named in the report have already been the subject of newspaper stories, letters to the editor and emails to council (which are available to the public through a Freedom of Information Act request). The issue and the individual have been openly discussed and written about in the past. Why the secrecy now?
I believed that the general nature of the issue - even the subject itself - could have been debated openly without compromising anyone's security or confidentiality, since it was already a public issue.
Second, while it was identified as a matter of municipal property, the "property" under consideration was not land, or any similar asset. In fact it was "invaluable" in the sense that, while nominally belonging to the municipality, it had no intrinsic, appraised value. The amount of money mentioned in the report was relatively insignificant to the municipality (much, much less than this council voted for the AMO expenses of Councillor Sandberg or the FCM expenses of Councillor Jeffrey, of which both approvals were discussed openly).
Finally, while a third clause was added at the start of the open meeting to justify receiving or communicating about legal matters, that part could have been done separately and the larger part of the discussion held in the open. Besides, we had no legal counsel with us last night.
Councillor McNabb noted in the public portion of the meeting that he wanted to get another legal opinion on the issue. Since I wasn't in the meeting to determine if he was granted his request, I will have to ask how much that cost the municipality. His last request set us back more than $11,000 - also a lot more than the amount of money under discussion in camera. Won't it be ironic if his legal opinion costs us more than the subject itself?
Having at least the general discussion in the open would have allowed us to open the broader debate over issues about public policy, public space and larger issues of funding initiatives, that have not been addressed by this council.
However, I was the only one who felt this way and the rest traipsed off under the cone of silence to discuss it. I went home, instead, to walk my dog.
I always feel that when presented with an option of going in camera or debating in public where the issue may have grey areas about confidentiality or public interest, council should err on the side of openness. Democracy, as I said last night, is not well served by secrecy.
Councillor Tim McNabb hooted in derision when I made that comment. I presume his heckling sums up the difference in our opinions over openness and democracy.