As a journalist it might be surprising to some that I can’t get too stirred up about the in-camera meetings that Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin is complaining about. Yes it is true that Hamilton council, like many others, has often resorted to in-camera sessions for no reason other than to conceal an embarrassing situation—something not covered by the rules that allow closed-door meetings. Whether we in the media like it or not, there are times when the closed –door sessions are needed. You can’t discuss your legal strategy in a lawsuit in public. Nor can you talk about an impending property purchase without driving up the price. But in my 30-odd years of observing the goings-on at 71 Main Street West, anything of any news value from these meetings is routinely leaked to the media anyway. When council goes in-camera the city clerk and other senior staffers are present. Indeed, most of the time it is city legal staff who recommend the in-camera meetings, not councillors. Any council actions that are taken as a result of the in-camera discussion are reported in public. People who argue for the end of in-camera meetings seem to forget that councillors are free to communicate with each other secretly in any number of means—at Tim Hortons, over lunch, by Blackberry—to name but a few. The rules say that such meetings are allowed as long as the number of participants does not represent a quorum of council or a standing committee. It is virtually impossible to police these kinds of encounters. My view on in-camera meetings is similar to my view of meetings between members of council and proponents of projects—I don’t want to be represented by a councillor who doesn’t trust himself or herself to behave honourably in these situations. If you don’t trust your councillor to do the right thing behind closed doors—the solution is to elect somebody you do trust.
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