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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Letter: Town Council transparency questioned


Jonathan Skrimshire - As a citizen concerned with questions of transparency in government, I concur with letter writer Cheryl Handford's remarks regarding Pincher Creek Town Council's excessive use of in camera meetings.

This past spring, I had occasion to look into the question of Council's handling of in camera discussions in some detail. My review of meeting minutes revealed that over the five month period from January 1 through May 31, 2017, Council spent 46.5% of its regular Council meeting time in deliberations closed to the public. When meetings of the Committee of the Whole were added to the calculation, that figure jumped to 53.5%. In total, over the time period in question, Council spent 27 hours 39 minutes in open public session and 31 hours 50 minutes behind closed doors.

These are absolutely shocking figures. Moreover, a subsequent review of the minutes of meetings from June through August confirmed that my earlier findings were not an anomaly and are in fact consistent with ongoing behaviour.

What happened during all those hours of secret discussions? How did Council arrive at the countless decisions that have emerged from behind closed doors? You and I will never know. Once an issue has vanished into the black hole of in camera meetings, the details are lost to the public forever.

This is not a trivial procedural matter. It is a fundamental principle of our form of government that the public's business is to be conducted in public. In my opinion, the incumbent Council's extraordinarily broad application of the power to close meetings to the public is a violation of the spirit of Section 197 of the Municipal Government Act and constitutes abuse of a power that is intended to be used only in very limited and specific circumstances. As an ongoing practice it is extremely damaging to public trust and directly interferes with the ability of the press to report on Council's actions.

Let there be no mistake: This is not what open, transparent government looks like. This community deserves far better from its elected representatives. No matter what the outcome of the municipal election on October 16th, this longstanding pattern of closed door Council meetings must end.

Supporting data
All data has been derived from official meeting minutes provided by the Town of Pincher Creek. All time quantities are expressed in minutes.

Regular meetings of Town Council:

Date: January 9, 2017
Duration: 244
Public: 146
In camera: 98

Date: January 23, 2017
Duration: 206
Public: 94
In camera: 112

Date: February 13, 2017
Duration: 234
Public: 151
In camera: 83

Date: February 27, 2017
Duration: 155
Public: 93
In camera: 62

Date: March 13, 2017
Duration: 170
Public: 119
In camera: 51

Date: March 27, 2017
Duration: 231
Public: 90
In camera: 141

Date: April 10, 2017
Duration: 186
Public: 54
In camera: 132

Date: April 24, 2017
Duration: 135
Public: 135
In camera: 0

Date: May 8, 2017
Duration: 227
Public: 53
In camera: 174

Date: May 23, 2017
Duration: 234
Public: 146
In camera: 88

Meetings of the Committee of the Whole:

Date: January 4, 2017
Duration: 287
Public: 114
In camera: 173

Date: February 1, 2017
Duration: 326
Public: 120
In camera: 206

Date: March 1, 2017
Duration: 259
Public: 94
In camera: 165

Date: April 4, 2017
Duration: 352
Public: 183
In camera: 169

Date: May 3, 2017
Duration: 323
Public: 67
In camera: 256

Methodology :

Overall meeting durations were calculated from the recorded times of call to order and adjournment. Recess durations were calculated from the recorded start and end times of recess breaks. Recess durations were subtracted from overall meeting durations. For each meeting, the resulting figure, which represents actual meeting time, is presented as "Duration".

Durations of in camera discussions were calculated from recorded times of motions to enter and exit in camera session. The total of all such sessions was summed for each meeting. For each meeting, the resulting figure is presented as "In camera".

Time spent in open public session was derived by subtracting "In camera" from "Duration". For each meeting, the resulting figure is presented as "Public".

1 comment:

  1. Thank you Jonathan for sharing this data summary as well as addressing your thoughts on the lack of transparency from Council with the numerous 'In Camera ' sessions.
    For citizens to make informed decisions, they must have consistent open and transparent information. This is vital to maintain a healthy relationship between Council and their Citizens. I would also RECOMMEND FOR COUNCIL COMMITTEES: That Council/Administration compile a comprehensive list of internal, external and intermunicipal committee appointments, along with terms of reference for each committee that includes related posted information such as the committee purpose, description, background, members, appointment terms, meeting dates, meeting minutes and reporting requirements for media; and pass current bylaws, as required, to establish the clear functions of council committees in accordance with the MGA s. 145.
    We, as proud citizens of the Town of Pincher Creek, deserve to know where we are headed and how we are represented.

    Dianne Gray

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