It will likely be September before a proposed policy governing meetings between Whitehorse city council and the city’s senior management comes back to council for consideration.
Council voted 4-2 July 8 to send the proposed council and administration roundtable policy — which would have shut the public out of the sessions between council and administration — back to staff for more work. Mayor Dan Curtis and Coun. Laura Cabott voted against the deferral and Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu was absent from the meeting.
City manager Linda Rapp told reporters after the meeting that with staff having booked vacation time and council taking a three week break in August, a revised policy won’t likely come back until September.
The policy would replace the current council and senior management (CASM) meeting process policy, which officials say doesn’t meet the territory’s Municipal Act and would be repealed with the adoption of a new policy.
CASMs are held to allow for a more detailed discussion between council and staff on issues before a recommendation is brought forward at a regular council meeting.
Currently, CASMs are open to the public with the exception of those cases outlined in the Municipal Act where meetings can be closed to the public (legal matters, personnel issues and other such issues).
The roundtable format had proposed sessions between council and senior management as “gatherings” rather than “meetings” that would be closed to the public to allow for a more open and frank discussions. The sessions would also be less formal with no quorum taken, any notes taken being distributed internally only, it would be chaired by staff rather than a council member and provide for more of a venue where ideas would be exchanged and questions asked.
Council’s decision to send the proposed policy back to city staff came after presentations earlier in the meeting by two delegates arguing in favor of the sessions remaining open to the public.
Former city councillor Mike Gladish suggested there could be potential to host both types of sessions (CASMs and roundtable discussions), arguing the proposal for “gatherings’ rather than “meetings” raises a red flag and could add to public distrust and cynicism. Any new policy that would close the sessions to the public should clearly state they are not open to the public, he said.
Gladish also argued efforts should be made to encourage citizens to attend meetings that are open to the public.
Marianne Darragh, meanwhile, argued the proposal is the most recent in a list of city efforts aimed at keeping the public out of city processes.
Citizens have a right to know how government processes are working, she said.
“The potential for abuse is really high,” she added, pointing out that even notes from the sessions would not be available to the public and quorum would not be taken. Part of the role of council members is letting the public know what you’re doing and having open meetings allows that, she said.
Most council members were convinced to at least hold off on the changes.
Coun. Samson Hartland was the first to speak up, highlighting his support for “open and transparent government.” He pointed out the city already has the Municipal Act to govern meetings and when they can be closed to the public.
“It’s all very clearly laid out,” he said, adding he could not support the proposed policy as it had come forward.
Other council members echoed his points with Coun. Jan Stick also noting the city does not fall under Access to Information and Protection of Privacy (ATIPP) legislation. She suggested that though it doesn’t fall under legislation, the city could still request guidance from the ombudsman on the policy.
“I think we can do better than this,” she said.
Councillors Dan Boyd and Steve Roddick both spoke in favour of sending the document back to administration, with Boyd stating there doesn’t seem to be sufficient reasons to close the meetings to the public and Roddick adding without the public or media at those meetings, it means council and staff would be responsible for policing themselves.
Curtis and Cabott, meanwhile, made it clear they wanted the policy to be voted on.
Cabott suggested if council followed everything set out in the CASM policy as is, it would actually align with the Municipal Act.
Meanwhile, Curtis was quick to come to the defense of administration, pointing out administration had been directed by council to bring forward changes to the policy.
He also argued municipal governments are already very transparent and while city officials have talked with the territory about ATIPP legislation, the city does not have the resources to manage that on its own. It would need resources, Curtis said.
As for the policy change, he said administration had come up with the best solution it could and a vote should happen on that council members would be free to vote against it if they don’t agree with it, he said.
“I don’t see the value of dragging this on,” he said.
With four other council members voting in support of a motion by Hartland to send it back to administration, the deferral went ahead.
Outside council chambers following the vote, Darragh said she would have preferred the proposed policy be turfed entirely but is hopeful more work will be done to come up with a policy where the public can continue to take in the council and management sessions.
She also said she was surprised by the comments from councillors who voiced their support for keeping the sessions open to the public as that didn’t seem to be a high priority during earlier discussions on the matter.
Darragh plans to watch for council’s decision on it this fall.
Contact Stephanie Waddell at firstname.lastname@example.org