Learning never stops and neither should we
I don’t know how many of you may have had a chance to watch last night’s four hour Council meeting either really live, video live, or video recorded on the City’s web site, but I do know that almost all of you (and I, until Sandi Blankenship’s pre-in-camera recording showed up) did not see a very important part. It was taped in the brief open Council meeting which was held to take a vote to go in-camera. It runs about 12 minutes and is instructive about how in-camera meetings are constructed and about how meetings of the City’s executives are held.
This video can be seen here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mA-ckGbvDtM&feature=youtu.be
What struck me immediately was the number of City Staffers who were not only present in this pre in-camera session, but as I later learned, remained throughout this closed executive meeting. The only occasion for an in-camera meeting is to discuss policy. Policy meetings are limited to the Executive Committee which is formed of the Mayor, Councillors, the City Manager, the Manager of Legislative Services and the meeting recorder. It is my understanding that executive meetings are restricted to executive members unless the presence of others is specially requested by the executive committee. Accordingly, all other Staff members or others are there at the call of the executive committee and, though they may be on standby in an adjacent room, should only be in the in-camera meeting when they are called upon by the executive committee to report on specific items about which they have direct and professional experience. It is not a general senior Staff and Council session.
If I am mistaken in this view, I beg to be enlightened… But I can also understand some of the difficulties which seem to plague City Hall.
What also struck me is the discussion of the origin of matters to be taken into an in-camera meeting and the release of decisions made there. Though in-camera meetings are the very definition of a Catch 22, it may in fact be necessary that some subject matters need to be discussed by the Executive Committee in private and that for it to be in private it cannot be discussed openly before the fact. What was further evident, however, is that matters which fall under section 90-1 of the Community Charter, by far the bulk of calls for in-camera meetings, once heard in-camera can, on a vote of Council, immediately be transferred out to the open meeting. It may be that this needs to be done more often, as one person’s secret is another citizens need for transparency. Council has done this once and an important matter which had been scheduled for in-camera discussion was brought to the open public meeting. It needs to be done more often.
It is my understanding that all meeting agendas are set, not by Council, but by agreement between the Mayor and the City Manager. If I am incorrect in this, please write and correct my misunderstanding.
It has also been rumoured for years that in-camera meetings often leave the path opened by section 90-1 to cover many other topics not originally mentioned in the call for the meeting. If this is indeed happening, Council needs to review this situation and be more circumspect in its use…. or abuse…