Editorial: The gold standard?

Last week, Cornwall Newswatch reported that the City of Cornwall was given a slap on the wrist by the Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé about how that city conducts in-camera meetings. By law, any in-camera meeting called by a municipal council must state the nature or reason for entering a closed session.

The language used by that city was that the meeting was held to discuss “personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees”. This is the same language used when South Dundas holds in-camera meetings.

The Township of South Glengarry has set the gold standard for transparency when it comes to in-camera meetings. Not only does that township state the legal boilerplate reason for a meeting, they also provide as much detail as possible concerning what the meeting is about and who is presenting at the meeting. Privacy is still protected, but there is more transparency and accountability. This should be the standard for all municipal governance.

In fact, some members of this South Dundas council in 2014 campaigned, and were elected on the promise of more accountability and transparency. Yet, three years into this council’s term of office, we find the opposite has occurred. An example is the December 5th South Dundas council meeting. A report on the purchase of a wheeled excavator was on that meeting’s agenda. Just before that meeting, it was observed by The Leader that discussions were going on in the hallway between the various staff and council members. That agenda item was removed by the mayor with no explanation of the reason.

When did we go back to the time where council decisions are made before a council meeting?

There is a process that should have been followed to be open and transparent called deferment. It is often used at council and should have been in this case. If council agrees they need more information, a vote to defer allows them time to receive that information. The mayor’s actions at the meeting denied members of council the opportunity to vote.

Accountability and transparency are not just buzzwords to throw around every four years when campaigning. They must be practiced every day, and in every action of elected officials.