The public may not be left out of Whitehorse city council and senior management sessions after all, at least under a proposed policy presented at council’s Oct. 7 meeting.
And that’s good news to at least a couple of council members who said as much at the council meeting.
“I like that they remain open,” Coun. Jan Stick said, with Coun. Steve Roddick echoing the statement, saying he’s fairly satisfied with the policy now that most meetings will be open.
In July, city council deferred adopting the proposed council and administration roundtable policy that would govern meetings between council members and staff.
The roundtable policy would replace the current council and senior management (CASM) meeting process policy, which officials maintain does not conform to the territory’s Municipal Act.
It would have, among other changes, closed the meetings to the public.
CASMs are held for a more detailed discussion between council and staff on issues before a recommendation is brought forward at a standard council meeting.
CASMs are open to the public with the exception of those cases outlined in the Municipal Act where meetings can be closed to discuss legal matters, personnel issues and other such issues.
The roundtable format initially proposed by staff was put forward as “gatherings” rather than “meetings” between council and senior management that would be closed to the public to allow for what was argued would be more open and frank discussions.
The sessions would also be less formal with no quorum taken. As with current CASMs, roundtable minutes would be distributed internally and only a council member would chair the meeting.
The policy also makes it clear the roundtables are a place for discussion on matters, and no direction is to be set, something Coun. Dan Boyd indicated he was pleased to see in the proposed document.
The proposal to close the meetings had raised a number of concerns among council members with a 4-2 vote to send it back to city staff for more work in light of those and other concerns.
At the Oct. 7 council meeting, Catherine Constable, the city’s manager of legislative services, brought forward a changed proposal that would see most meetings open to the public with the exception of those deemed to be dealing with “sensitive matters”. There is no definition for “sensitive matters”.
Constable said beyond those matters that fall under the Municipal Act, it’s impossible to know what sort of issues could come up in the future and that there may be times council deems a matter as sensitive.
This policy would allow such matters to be discussed behind closed doors, though most meetings would be open.
Roddick voiced his support for open meetings, confirming with Constable that “sensitive matters” would most likely include issues falling under the Municipal Act where closed meetings can occur.
Roddick said maintaining open meetings for the most part, while also having a clause in place to allow for sensitive matters to be discussed without the public, is an appropriate way for the city to handle the staff/council sessions.
The changes made to the proposed policy came after city staff sought advice from George Cuff, a local governance expert based in Alberta, in light of council’s deferral.
Constable stated in her report to council that Cuff told the city: “The public should be invited to attend whenever the decision-making process is moving forward; and any public meeting convened by the City which purports to involve members of Council and Administration needs to be chaired by a member of council.”
With that, a new four-page roundtable policy was drafted specifying that generally the roundtables will be open to the public to attend, though council can close it to discuss “sensitive matters.”
Council is scheduled to vote on the policy Oct. 15.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org