The city of Hamilton, often criticized for excessive use of confidentiality, will take a small step towards better transparency, with a move to reduce the number of verbal updates to council. To date, when verbal updates are given to council and committee, there is no written record. Under a new resolution recently passed, staff will be required to provide a written summary of any verbal updates to council and these will form part of the public record. In addition any questions and answers that councillors ask staff during the Statements by Members portion of the council agenda will now be recorded and be available to the public. The new protocol was implemented at the March 30th council meeting as Item 10.
The staff report noted that there will still be instances where a verbal update is justified, for example during COVID, GIC members were given a verbal update in order to provide the most up-to-date statistics. Now such updates will be followed by a written summary. In addition staff will now inform council ahead of time if late reports or verbal updates are coming along with an explanation of why they are needed.
All of these changes were discussed at a meeting of the Governance Review Subcommittee last week. In another attempt at greater transparency, staff wave been instructed to separate legal advice from reports that pertain to in-camera discussions so that more information can be released to the public. The present practice is to deem any report containing legal advice as confidential, even though, in the absence of the legal advice the report could be made public.