In her monthly newsletter to constituents Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward defended the use of in-camera meetings by Burlington Council. This came in the wake of a council censure of Ward Four Councillor Shawna Stolte who has found to have revealed some information about matters discussed in camera. Stolte subsequently announced that she would not run for re-election.
Stolte has been an advocate of greater transparency at City Hall and has said she wants the public to get more information about the frequency and reasons members of Council go behind closed doors. She has been critical of the practice of describing the meetings as being to discuss “legal advice” or “litigation.” A number of media platforms recently joined Stolte in protesting the frequency of these closed- door meetings.
“The time this Council spends “in camera” (private session, away from public scrutiny) is extensive – probably record-breaking. There may be good reasons….but it seems to me they spend nearly as much time in-camera as in open session”, wrote columnist and former Alderman Joan Little.
Wrote Meed Ward, “claims were made that this Council is inappropriately going into closed session and that the number of closed session meetings have increased. No evidence has been presented to support either of these claims. However, there is a formal process available to the public, Council members or staff, to seek an independent ruling on any concerns about closed session meetings from our Closed Meeting Investigator.”
The mayor went on to say that she asked the investigator to rule on a number of recent in-camera matters and that he had found that “each closed session complied with our Procedure Bylaw.”
While finding no wrongdoing the investigator suggested the city could do a better job of reporting to the public after the closed-door meetings, “we do wish to note that the City itself can dictate the content of its “report out” obligations through its own Procedure By-law. In this regard, the City has an opportunity to improve the transparency of its decision-making processes by enhancing the “report out “practices to include a more substantive briefing to the public following closed session.”