On the agenda of the May 5, 2014 meeting of Brighton Council, a report from Brighton Environmental Services Manager (ESM) was to be delivered in closed (in camera) session. This would have meant the public wouldn’t have seen the report and there wouldn’t have been any public discussion regarding the report.
The justification for discussing the matter in closed session was that it was “a subject regarding advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege”. Although citing solicitor-client privilege can be a legitimate reason to go in camera, it does not mean that Council must to go in camera, as it is solely up to their discretion.
Council may choose to go in camera if they consider that the information is sensitive and if it became public it would be detrimental to the citizens of Brighton. However, in my opinion it should never be used to simply withhold information from the public.
At the approval of the agenda, Councillor Martinello put forward the following motion.
“I move that item 19.1.2 regarding legal advice related to the Brighton sewage treatment plant be moved from the closed portion of the meeting to the open portion of the meeting for three reasons.
The first reason. Brighton taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. Over this term of council, Brighton taxpayers have paid approximately one million dollars to contractors and tens of thousands of dollars to consultants to operate the Brighton sewage treatment plant.
The second reason. What happens at the sewage treatment plant impacts Presqu’Ile Bay. And a healthy Presqu’Ile Bay is essential to the economic well-being of Brighton and to the standard of living we all enjoy.
And the third reason is that section 239(2)(f) of the Ontario Municipal Act says this. “A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.” So even by the Ontario Municipal Act we are not required to have this portion of the meeting in closed.
So in the interests of transparency and accountability I propose that it be held in the open session.”
Councillor Martinello’s motion was seconded be Councillor Tadman and the motion to bring the discussion into the open session of Council passed with the additional support of Mayor Walas and Councillor Kerr.
Bringing the report into the open session was as an important victory for transparency, but it was not a unanimous decision, as the motion was not supported by Councillors Tom Rittwage, Emily Rowley and Mike Vandertoorn. I certainly hope that these Councillors will support future such motions so as to help improve accountability and transparency towards the taxpayers of Brighton.
It is interesting to note that some Councillors have indicated in their platform for re-election that they want to improve transparency and communication, yet fail to show leadership in this regard, or even support this concept when given the opportunity.
Councillor Emily Rowley said when announcing that she would be seeking re-election, “I will endeavour to continue to understand and fairly represent the interests of all members of Brighton and will encourage an environment of accountability and open communication“, yet Councillor Rowley voted against this motion to provide transparency.
Deputy Mayor Mike Vandertoorn said when announcing that he would be running for the position of Mayor, “The foundation of my commitment is based on trust, transparency, a positive attitude, respect, experience and communication“, yet Deputy Mayor Vandertoorn voted against this motion to provide transparency.
The report from Brighton’s Environmental Services Manager is titled “Water Pollution Control Plant Summons to Court” and it is a one page document with very little detail. So it would seem that even if the report was delivered in camera, there was to be very little information provided to Council members prior to the meeting for their review and consideration. The report basically states that Municipality of Brighton is being taken to court by the Ministry of the Environment for non-compliance with effluent quality limits for discharge from the Water Pollution Control Plant.
The summons to court which was not presented as part of the ESM’s report to Council, actually shows that there are five charges, with four being for non-compliance and the fifth for failure to report non-compliance. The failure to report non-compliance was not mentioned in the report from the Environmental Services Manager.
The court date has been set for June 12, 2014 at 9:00 a.m. in the Brighton POA Court (Council Chambers) in Brighton. This is a public proceeding and members of the public can attend if they wish.
I think that it is extremely important for the sake of transparency and accountability that Brighton Council takes every opportunity to have all matters disclosed and discussed at the public meetings of Council unless there is a clearly defined detriment to the citizens of Brighton.