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Another in camera meeting I refused to attend

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There were two in-camera meetings last night, one which I refused to attend, based on what I read in the confidential material presented to council before the meeting.

I protested in the open session of council about the appropriateness of holding the discussion in secret. This council is far more willing - even seeming eager at times - to meet behind closed doors than any other council I've watched or been part of. I thought we should try, just once, to be more open, when the issue offered us that opportunity.

While I cannot break my oath and reveal the subject of the meeting, I can comment on why I didn't believe it was appropriate.

First, the subject of the discussion and the individual named in the report have already been the subject of newspaper stories, letters to the editor and emails to council (which are available to the public through a Freedom of Information Act request). The issue and the individual have been openly discussed and written about in the past. Why the secrecy now?

I believed that the general nature of the issue - even the subject itself - could have been debated openly without compromising anyone's security or confidentiality, since it was already a public issue.

Second, while it was identified as a matter of municipal property, the "property" under consideration was not land, or any similar asset. In fact it was "invaluable" in the sense that, while nominally belonging to the municipality, it had no intrinsic, appraised value. The amount of money mentioned in the report was relatively insignificant to the municipality (much, much less than this council voted for the AMO expenses of Councillor Sandberg or the FCM expenses of Councillor Jeffrey, of which both approvals were discussed openly).

Finally, while a third clause was added at the start of the open meeting to justify receiving or communicating about legal matters, that part could have been done separately and the larger part of the discussion held in the open. Besides, we had no legal counsel with us last night.

Councillor McNabb noted in the public portion of the meeting that he wanted to get another legal opinion on the issue. Since I wasn't in the meeting to determine if he was granted his request, I will have to ask how much that cost the municipality. His last request set us back more than $11,000 - also a lot more than the amount of money under discussion in camera. Won't it be ironic if his legal opinion costs us more than the subject itself?

Having at least the general discussion in the open would have allowed us to open the broader debate over issues about public policy, public space and larger issues of funding initiatives, that have not been addressed by this council.

However, I was the only one who felt this way and the rest traipsed off under the cone of silence to discuss it. I went home, instead, to walk my dog.

I always feel that when presented with an option of going in camera or debating in public where the issue may have grey areas about confidentiality or public interest, council should err on the side of openness. Democracy, as I said last night, is not well served by secrecy.

Councillor Tim McNabb hooted in derision when I made that comment. I presume his heckling sums up the difference in our opinions over openness and democracy.

Your stand on this in-camera meeting is very much appreciated by Collingwood citizens who believe in democracy and open government.

If a subject can be be presentd and debated at the Council table, then the subject should not be on the Council agenda.

Although the Ontario Municipal Act permits an in-camera meeting with specific limitations, there is no reason why the Collingwood Council has consider any issue in the dark.

Please keep up the defence of openess.
I think Tim should put his name forward to replace Helena as the PC candidate. His rude, obnoxious behaviour would fit right in during Question Period where good manners are forgotten in all the jeering and heckling.
Having just read the article in the EB about the in camera meeting you refused to attend, I would like to say I admire your scruples. John was treated shabbily by the Town and deserves a huge apology. Money paid for his art represents to me, better value than the $11,000.00 paid for Tim's legal opinion and the many many tens of thousands of tax dollars spent to stop Admiral Collingwood Place.
Your protests in the name of democracy are appreciated by many.
Ian Chadwick
May 15 2010 09:48 AM
Or perhaps worth more than the $25,000 paid this year for Norm's run at the AMO presidency, or the $12,000 for Kathy's FCM jaunts....? And from which you the taxpayer get what benefit?

The Admiral legal costs were >$100,000, by the way.

I wanted to hold the debate on public art and public space at the table - which I think is the bigger issue and from which debate we can create a policy for such things in future.

I agree with you that policy for public art ought to be established. The Town owns many pieces of Nick Hodsons' beautiful work. But we are fortunate to have a wealth of talented artists in Collingwood. Do we own any pieces by Murray Clerkson? He was an important part of our Town and continues to enrich Collingwood in a wonderful way even after his passing.
Maybe the next council will be interested in such a policy.
Ian Chadwick
May 21 2010 06:44 AM
A public art policy was presented to council as a recommendation from the Arts & Culture Advisory committee, and it received support in principle, albeit without any formal policy or guidelines. It needs to have a budget attached to it because it's fine and dandy to crow about public art but if we can't buy anything, it's just words.

I'm not sure how well local artists will be treated. Consider that our own museum wouldn't sell Christine Cowley's award-winning book, Butchers, Bakers & Building the Lakers, I don't know how works by other local artists or authors will be received. She was recently given an award by the Ontario Historical Society for the best book on regional history in the past three years. But our own museum won't have it. Go figure.

We don't seem to go out of our way to support local artists or authors, so I'm not sure how a policy that recommends we buy public art by local artists will go over. I'd support it but there are those who would happily spend millions on a roof over an outdoor ice rink but flinch if asked to spend a dime on public art.

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