By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The debate over the legitmacy of closing meetings to the public has been brought back to the surface.
A new report taking a look at council’s procedural bylaw recommends it be left alone. The report stems from a February delegation by former mayoral candidate Rosemary McConkey, who asked city staff to look into several items relating to their procedural bylaw, including researching trends in other municipalities, as well as the possibility of identifying who it was that requested a meeting be taken behind closed doors.
In the final report, it was noted that, in total, portions of 12 of Oshawa council’s 38 meetings in 2015 were closed to the public, including five committee meetings. All together, 17 of the city’s 103 meetings in 2015 included closed portions, coming to a total of 16.5 per cent.
This was relatively low in comparison to Durham’s other municipalities, which saw portions of 45 per cent of Ajax meetings closed (18/40), six per cent of Brock’s meetings (6/98), 37.5 per cent in Clarington (15/40), 41.5 per cent in Scugog (22/53) and 38.9 per cent in Uxbridge (21.54) No information was provided from Whitby.
Where Oshawa stood out was in the practice of city council allowing delegations at education and training sessions. Ajax, Brock, Pickering, Scugog, Uxbridge and Whitby all noted they do not allow delegations at such sessions, while Clarington noted it is up to the discretion of the mayor.
Appearing before the corporate services committee, McConkey shared her disdain at the staff recommendation to keep the bylaw the same despite new information.
“You’re basically closing the door to improvement,” McConkey said.
“The whole process of openness and transparency seems to be getting lost here.”
McConkeys intentions were supported by Councillor John Neal, who shared his own contempt for recent closed meetings at the Region of Durham relating to the Durham York Energy Centre.
When his motion to refer the report back to staff failed on a tied vote, Neal lashed out.
“I don’t think it’s up to this committee to ignore delegations in regards to a significant matter like this,” he said, noting that meetings being “incased in cement” are continuously being accused of being closed improperly.
Along with a city meeting closed to the public on Dec 17, which is the origin for these discussions, a pair of regional council meetings to deal with the incinerator on Dec. 22 and Jan. 27 are now under investigation. The city’s meeting is being looked at by the provincial ombudsman, while the regional meetings are being looked at by a contracted closed meeting investigator through the Association of Municipalities of Ontario.
However, other councillors felt their hands were slightly tied when it came to the decision to close meetings to the public.
“It’s not always our choice,” Councillor Nancy Diamond said.
Following discussion, the report was received for information with only Neal opposed.