Closed meetings in municipalities go back a long way, and for many the reason the doors are closed are not so much necessary as by choice.
According to the Ontario Ombudsman, contained in the Municipal Act of 2001 there are 14 reasons a meeting could be closed to the public.
A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is,
(a) the security of the property of the municipality or local board;
(b) personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;
(c) a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;
(d) labour relations or employee negotiations;
(e) litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals, affecting the municipality or local board;
(f) advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
(g) a matter in respect of which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act;
(h) information explicitly supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board by Canada, a province or territory or a Crown agency of any of them;
(i) a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information, supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board, which, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to prejudice significantly the competitive position or interfere significantly with the contractual or other negotiations of a person, group of persons, or organization;
(j) a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial or financial information that belongs to the municipality or local board and has monetary value or potential monetary value; or
(k) a position, plan, procedure, criteria or instruction to be applied to any negotiations carried on or to be carried on by or on behalf of the municipality or local board. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (2); 2017, c. 10, Sched. 1, s. 26.
The key word here is may and truthfully most municipalities use these exceptions to close meetings wherever they can.
However the only two reasons a city council meeting must be closed to public are:
– Requests under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
– An ongoing investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman or the municipality’s closed meeting investigator or ombudsman.
In the City of Sault Ste. Marie a deal for a property on Hudson Street could have been done in the open.
City Solicitor Karen Fields explains why property discussion are held “in caucus” (behind closed doors) in our Hudson Street story.
“When property issues are first discussed we do so in this way to provide council so they can make a decision and provide instructions,” said Fields in an email obtained by our FOI.
Citizens asked for transparency for a long time.
The city’s Agenda review committee could accomplish this, by simply instead of going to closed for everything they can, using that power judiciously and only going when the Municipal Act requires it.