Kings County councillor frustrated with process during in-camera minute debate

Kirk Starratt
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Kings County councillor Jim Winsor expressed frustration with process during debate of a motion he brought forward regarding the taking of in-camera minutes.

“This process is terrible,” Coun. Jim Winsor said of the handling of a committee of the whole agenda item regarding the keeping of in-camera minutes at Kings County council.

“Your process is terrible, thank you,” Coun. Bob Best was heard to remark before Warden Diana Brothers brought down her gavel, calling for order.

Winsor brought forward an item regarding the keeping of in-camera minutes at the June 17 committee of the whole session. Earlier in the proceedings, chief administrative officer Tom MacEwan said municipal advisor Mark Peck from the provincial Department of Municipal Affairs would be arranging a workshop for councillors to be held in late July or early August on Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy and in-camera minutes.

When Winsor’s matter came up, MacEwan said he had reviewed Winsor’s motion and received legal advice. The Municipal Government Act doesn’t require municipalities to keep minutes of in-camera or closed-door meetings of council.

“Point of order,” Winsor said. “I haven’t put the motion on the floor. He’s speaking to a motion I haven’t made.”

Winsor made the motion, which was seconded by Coun. Pauline Raven, to direct the chief administrator to bring forward policy and procedures and to immediately arrange for the taking of minutes effective at the next council session. Following debate, the motion was defeated.

MacEwan said whether or not to keep in-camera minutes is a decision of council, but Winsor seemed to be suggesting that council is required to do so.

“I don’t agree that the MGA (Municipal Government Act) provides the direction or states that,” MacEwan said.

He pointed out that no decisions can be made in-camera but direction could be given to the chief administrator or solicitor. MacEwan said the municipality has no bylaw regarding the keeping of in-camera minutes but he would arrange for minutes to be kept if council decides so following the workshop. Not all municipalities keep in-camera minutes.

Municipal solicitor Andrew Montgomery concurred with MacEwan that, from a strictly legal standpoint, council has no requirement to keep such minutes.

Winsor said he was frustrated that he put forward a motion that he wasn’t yet able to speak to and it “doesn’t seem right” that he couldn’t speak to it before the floor debates it.

“I feel I’m being denied a privilege here,” Winsor said.

Warden Diana Brothers said she had called Winsor and asked him to withdraw the motion based on the conversation with Municipal Affairs.

Winsor said he didn’t bring the motion to council in haste: he did so following a “prolonged period of frustration.” He said he brought the matter forward for practical reasons.

“This is an ongoing issue we need to recognize,” he said. “We must admit that we have something to talk about here.”

Council has “had hours of debate on issues” in-camera and some debate has been “misconstrued after the fact”, which has caused council “some grief.”

Brothers said there is no proof of information from in-camera sessions being misunderstood.

Winsor said it’s not about making the record public: it’s about accountability to the public.

“I think there’s an accountability matter here that we have to pay attention to,” he said.

Raven said the Halifax Regional Municipality keeps in-camera minutes and she thinks they do so because they want to be accountable.

“Is it better for this council to be as transparent as we can be or as secretive as the rules allow?” she said. “Is that who we want to be defined as? We’re not a business, we’re not a law firm, we’re a local government.”

MacEwan sai, if minutes were kept, they wouldn’t necessarily ever be made public. He said it’s a liability to those who make information from in-camera sessions public.

The Municipal Government Act allows councils to debate a limited number of matters matters in-camera, such as personnel matters, contract and land negotiations and legal matters.

Organizations: Kings County council, Department of Municipal Affairs, Halifax Regional Municipality

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Recent comments

  • Kimberly Smith
    June 20, 2014 - 08:17

    I side with transparency in government. The normal minutes show who is secretive and who is not . All one has to do is read how many times people motion for in camera meetings and who those people are. Of course they can't be questioned about those meetings. Nobody in them can talk. THAT would be against the law. I caution all who motion for in camera meetings that the public does not suffer secrecy gladly.

  • Elenore B
    June 19, 2014 - 18:15

    This newspaper writes such one sided articles, it makes Councillor Best look like he is supporting Councillor Windsor, I find that hard to believe. If in-camera meetings are private meetings for council then why does Councillor Windsor and Councillor Raven want minutes kept? I think they want to leak those minutes to the public. Council is doing the right thing, keep up the good work.

  • Ron Gee
    June 19, 2014 - 17:52

    Still waiting to hear back from Bob Best re: airport situation and Michelin. But like I asked him in the message I left, maybe he can't get permission from Michelin or Herr Brothers to answer any questions I may have. This council is getting run like a private company with the only shareholders being the councillors.

    • Andrew Robertson
      February 24, 2015 - 08:02

      "In-camera:" wassat? Legal speak in court where the public and press are not allowed to observe the procedure or process. The opposite of public disclosure. Word always gets out, anyway. We Voters are watching and see past the rhetoric.