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Councillors clash over confidentiality clauses for city legal settlements

By Dave Flaherty/The Oshawa Express

City council and staff are grappling with whether or not the municipality should agree to confidentiality clauses in settlements with other parties.

The finance services committee received a staff recommendation that the city to avoid these types of agreements in negotiations.

However, Mayor Dan Carter immediately moved to have the city do the exact opposite and not publicly release details of settlements.

Carter’s motion didn’t sit well with Ward 5 city and regional councillor Brian Nicholson.

“As far as I’m concerned, it is absolutely inappropriate for public bodies to enter into agreements with anyone where the details are hidden from the public,” Nicholson said.

He believes when settlements are made in “secret,” it leads to “abuse” and things that “would never be stood for” by the public.

Ward 3 regional councillor Bob Chapman argued confidentiality clauses are often used in the legal world, and some parties won’t settle without one.

He also noted if the details of every settlement of the city would be ‘laying the cards on the table’ for those who pursue legal action against the municipality.

“It’s advertising how to sue the city, and what you should [settle for],” Chapman said.

But Nicholson argued past councils have voted for settlements they’ve never even seen.

“How do I know if a settlement is good or bad, if I as a councillor don’t know what the terms of the settlement are,” he said

Ward 1 city councillor Rosemary McConkey questioned how they “could learn from mistakes” without knowing the details of those errors.
She also noted Carter’s motion would “close the door completely” on ever sharing any settlement agreements.
While he agreed there are some cases where details should be made public, Ward 5 city councillor John Gray wanted to hear from Oshawa’s legal department before moving forward.

“Let’s not be so careless that we find ourselves costing a lot of money unnecessarily,” he said.

Committee eventually referred the matter to legal staff with city solicitor Sam Yoon stating he hopes a report will come back in February.