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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.