Closed meeting investigator finds municipal committee needs improvements

Section: 
News

By Barb McKay

 

A closed meeting investigator’s report calls on Huron-Kinloss and joint advisory committees to take steps to improve transparency around meetings.

 

The report stems from a complaint raised following a meeting that was held at the Ripley Huron Community Centre on June 21, 2013 to discuss the municipal regulation of noise from industrial wind turbines.

 

The meeting was closed to the general public, but an invitation to township councillors that appeared on the June 3 agenda appeared to be from the Multi-Municipal Wind Turbine Working Group (MMWTWG), whose meetings are public. The perception that the meeting would be open resulted in at least one member of the public trying to attend the meeting and being barred from entering. Amberley Gavel Ltd. was contracted through Local Authority Services, Ltd. (LAS), a company developed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and hired to handle the township’s closed meeting investigations.

 

In its report to the township, Amberley Gavel stated, “It is our opinion that this meeting was not a meeting of the MMWTWG despite clear appearances to the contrary in the circulated invitation. However, we believe that MMWTWG members and the constituent municipalities should have acted to dispel the conclusion that it was, or might be, a meeting open to the public as soon as they became aware of the misinformation in circulation.

 

“When it first became apparent that there was some confusion about who could attend, there should have been an immediate distribution to invitees that attendance was intended to be by invitation only, and that it was not being sponsored by, or held in conjunction with a meeting of, the MMWTWG.”

 

The investigator indicated that accessing information from the group could be simpler.

 

“Ready access to the minutes of the MMWTWG appears only to be available through the minutes/agenda packages of constituent municipalities, and only if they are reproduced therein,” the report stated. “The approved membership of the MMWTWG is difficult, if not impossible to determine, except when attending members are listed in the Working Group's Minutes. The terms of reference seem to exist in draft form only. And assuming they are the basis of what the Committee was appointed to do, the Committee appears to be exceeding its mandate. A review should be undertaken.”

 

The report listed several items that boards and committees should consider:

 

What are the approved terms of reference as established by the initiating municipality or municipalities?

 

  • Appointments should only be made by bylaw and clearly cite these terms of reference.
  • How frequently will the terms of reference and mandate be reviewed and how might they be amended by all parties?
  • What public notice will be given of meetings to be held?
  • What procedural by-law will be followed?
  • Who will take minutes?
  • Is this person eligible to take the minutes?
  • Will the minute taker be properly trained?
  • Where and when will these minutes be distributed and be publicly available?
  • Where is the record of membership and members publicly available?
  • The open meetings provisions of the Municipal Act will apply.

In her report to council last Monday, township clerk Sonya Watson set out a motion for the township to forward the report and its recommendations to the MMWTWG and its member municipalities for consideration and support and provide a report on how it can improve. Staff also recommended that that the bill for the closed session investigation, totalling $1,089, be forwarded to the working group.

 

Council agreed and will bring the resolution back for approval at its next meeting, Feb. 18.