Politics

Another Friday, Another Secretive Communication from City Hall

Hamilton City Council to hold in camera meeting on Monday or Tuesday, but no notice was sent to the news media or the public.

By Joey Coleman
Published September 03, 2011

Surprise! Hamilton City Council is holding a hush-hush special closed-door Council meeting on "Monday, September 6, 2011" at 1:30pm. Or maybe on Tuesday: the executive assistant to Ward 3 Councillor Bernie Morelli confirms via Twitter that the meeting is on Tuesday at 1:30pm.

Councillors will consider, in-camera, an "Offer of Settlement - O.M.B. - Chedoke Brow Lands."

No other details could be confirmed as City Hall did not send any notifications to the media or public and is now closed for the long weekend.

Instead, the City decided to post the agenda quietly within their website late Friday afternoon before the beginning of the long weekend. This decision meant that you, the citizens, are only learning of this by accident because someone outside City Hall noticed.

The usual procedure for special meetings of Council is that the City Clerk sends an email to all media outlets when the meetings are announced. This did not happen yesterday.

(The Hamilton Spectator confirmed they had not receive any notification of the meeting, either.)

The Ontario Municipal Act does not require active public notification of meetings held by municipalities. In fact, the Municipal Act isn't entirely clear what constitutes a meeting.

Friday afternoon smokescreen

The meeting agenda was posted at the end of the business day on Friday afternoon right before the beginning of the holiday weekend.

Dumping information at the end of business on the Friday preceding a long weekend is a time-honoured tradition of secretive government organizations who attempt to take advantage of the lack of journalists working to publish information that do not want widely known.

Coming as it is at the end of a week in which City Council was under heavy fire for secrecy and failure to disclose public meetings of the velodrome sub-committee, City Hall should-be mindful of the sensitivity among both the public and media to the appearance of secrecy.

Council already under investigation

City Council is currently under investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman for a breakfast meeting by Council's NHL sub-committee with the Edmonton Oilers president last year.

The investigation was formally launch little over a month ago.

Both these events should be fresh in the minds of Councillors and senior City Officials.

History of Friday afternoon miscommunications

Late last Friday afternoon, City Manager Chris Murray privately sent Council an update on the Ivor Wynne stadium renovation revealing the renovation was now a rebuild.

The report was not posted alongside the velodrome report on the city website. It only became public knowledge when I obtained a copy and posted it publicly.

Journalists watch for this behaviour - using the distraction of a major report with plenty of information to digest as a smoke screen to release other information that government officials do not want widely known.

These are not the only examples of important information that should be distributed widely to the public but has been quietly hidden late on a Friday afternoon this summer.

Late afternoon on Friday July 15, Mr. Murray announced that he was suspending work on LRT to focus on all-day GO service.

Mr. Murray left City Hall that day for vacation for a few weeks leaving citizens to read his statement - "I have made a decision to suspend all current direct and indirect activities of the Light Rail Transit Initiative other than any work activities required to be completed under the agreement [with Metrolinx]" - and understand this to mean what it said.

Upon returning from vacation, Mr. Murray suggested citizens read his email again to understand what he really meant. The experience was chalked up to a miscommunication.

The failure to tell of Monday or Tuesday's Council meeting is not necessarily nefarious. It could simply be yet another case of poor communication by senior City Officials and Council.

Let's assume that it is merely poor communication. This raises the question: what is Council going to do to end this practice of poor communication late on Friday afternoons?

Secretive meetings not just a Hamilton problem

Dr. Ann Cavoukian, the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario, wrote an extensive report on the problem of closed-door and secretive meetings by Ontario municipalities in 2003.

In the report, "Making Municipal Government More Accountable: The Need for an Open Meetings Law in Ontario", Dr. Cavoukian called on the provincial government to amend the Municipal Act to:

Thus far, the provincial government has not acted on the report.

Take action

Eager politicians will be knocking on your door during the next five weeks asking for your vote in the provincial election. Ask them not what they think of Open Government (like lower taxes, they'll tell you they are in favour) but what they intend to actually do to make Open Government a reality.

Contact your City Councillor and ask them what steps they are taking to address the pattern of "miscommunication" at City Hall.

Most of all, stay involved.

This article was first posted on Joey's website.

Joey Coleman covers Hamilton Civic Affairs.

Read more of his work at The Public Record, or follow him on Twitter @JoeyColeman.

8 Comments

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By townhallshamilton (registered) - website | Posted September 03, 2011 at 10:12:54

Contact your City Councillor and ask them what steps they are taking to address the pattern of "miscommunication" at City Hall.

Further, ask them if they support the Town Halls Hamilton initiative.

http://townhallshamilton.blogspot.com/20...

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By GeoffEff (anonymous) | Posted September 03, 2011 at 10:27:29 in reply to Comment 69013

insult spam deleted

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted September 03, 2011 at 10:50:11 in reply to Comment 69015

It's all right there in the email highlighted by the post contained in that link.

(But it's about effecting change on the other side of the local governance equation...which would then change the equation itself.)

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By WRCU2 (registered) | Posted September 03, 2011 at 23:05:33 in reply to Comment 69019

(But it's about effecting change on the other side of the local governance equation...which would then change the equation itself.)

Comment edited by WRCU2 on 2011-09-03 23:08:42

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By williamG (anonymous) | Posted September 05, 2011 at 14:00:59

This is all about developing an infill site :the old Sanitrium /chedoke hospital lands. the deveplor proposed medium density condos and a seniors residence,,, the fat cats on Scenic went nutz no way NIMBY ..they ( the council) are finally getting around to settle 9 or maybe not )this unusaual matter where City staff way back presented a report to planning committee after 4 or 5 years in the mill to develop the Chedoke Browlands The history: Apparenty the ward councilor Whithead didnt want the matter to hit the streets before his wonderful Election time,, so he got his buds to refuse the plan. But now the developer has no choice but to go to the OMB /// BUT heres the rub ..Since City Hall staff supports the plan, Council has to hire OUTSIDE CONSULTANTS to OPPOSE their own staff,,,How stoopid is that ? WOW HOW MUCH IS THIS COSTING, MR WHITHEAD ???
Rumour up on Scenic that there is some scramblig to make A deal as the OMB hearing starts Wednesday... and the develper will probably go for his original 700 or 800 units instead of the 500 they were willing to settle at... something very wrong here ??
WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO SPEND MILLIONS IN OUR CITY WITH CIVIC LEADERS LIKE THIS... TIME FOR MR BRATINA TO SHOW HE WANTS GROWTH AND JOBS IN HAMILTON
Willy ( from the mountain )

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted September 05, 2011 at 22:23:19 in reply to Comment 69068

WHAT!?! Public engagement? A councillor who's responding? Who do these people think they are?

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By RenaissanceWatcher (registered) | Posted September 05, 2011 at 22:54:36

Interesting timing. Half an hour after the start of the closed door meeting on the possible Chedoke brow lands settlement tomorrow, a Pan Am Stadium Precinct Subcommittee meeting is scheduled to begin.

http://www.hamilton.ca/CityDepartments/C...

Comment edited by RenaissanceWatcher on 2011-09-05 22:57:47

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By Bobby1 (anonymous) | Posted September 06, 2011 at 09:05:57

Starting to get a horrible feeling Staff & City Council are discussing most important issues in private meetings,agreements are being made between Councillors> You support me with this issue in my Ward and I'll support you on a future issue in your Ward! Secrecy & crisis decisions seem awful common. Why are Councillors so agreeable on big issues without debate and challenging of alleged facts and figures? Is it because they discussed issue privately & decided on course of action before Public Meeting? Why so many costly projects being presented with extremely tight time lines for a decision? Are Brad & Sam,the only ones willing to speak their minds on issues which may be contrary to Mayor Bratina's view? So many questions,so few answers!

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