Above: A rendering of the proposed LAV III Monument at the Morinville Leisure Centre. – submitted photo
by Colin Smith
Are Morinville’s civic officials too tight-lipped?
A group of organizations concerned about access to information and the public’s right to know think so.
So they gave the Town of Morinville an honourable mention when they recently handed out the 2019 Code of Silence Award for Outstanding Achievement in Government Secrecy in the category of municipal government.
The award is given annually by The Canadian Association of Journalists, Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University, News Media Canada, and Canadian Journalists for Free Expression.
Their aim is to call public attention to government departments and agencies that are not as open as they should be in providing the public with access to information information to which they have a right.
Jim Turk, Director of the Centre for Free Expression at Ryerson University said the award was first presented in 2017.
The four organizations involved put out for calls for nominations and then a jury of representatives vets them and makes recommendations.
The 2019 award “winner” was the Town of Erin, Ontario.
“The jury felt there were a number of other deserving municipalities, and so these were given,” said Turk.
Along with Morinville, the runners-up were Cranbrook, B.C., North Bay, Ontario, Cornwall, Ontario, and Côte-Saint-Luc, Quebec.
In Morinville’s case, the main concern was the Town’s handling of the placement of the LAV III armoured vehicle monument near the Morinville Leisure Centre.
When complaints from the Rotary Club and other stakeholders arose following the Town’s unilateral decision to change the monument’s location, Council discussed the matter in closed session and came up with a new deal the terms of which it refused to make public.
The decision to keep the discussion and the details of the agreement secret reflects an overuse of closed sessions, Turk indicated.
“The default position is that the public has a right to know,” he said. “There may legitimately be some things that should be discussed in closed sessions, but generally these should be relatively few.
A statement on the matter from the Town Administration said, “The LAV placement discussions were held in camera as this is a land deal with the Rotary Club for a portion of the Rec Lands at the MLC and the specifics of land deals are not discussed in public session as they are private agreements.”
Mayor Barry Turner said that even though the awards are tongue-in-cheek, the Town of Morinville does not take this lightly.
“Town Council has worked throughout this term to increase the level of transparency,” he said. “A deliberate effort has been made to ensure transparent motions are made arising from closed session discussions related to matters being discussed.”
According to Turner, other elements include strict adherence to following the spirit, intent and legislated responsibility of Alberta’s Freedom of Information and Privacy (FOIP) Act.
All meetings of Council are public, with agendas posted on the Town website, public presentations can be made at all meetings, and correspondence received is included in agenda packages.
“Administration has worked diligently to ensure that all media enquiries have been addressed in a timely manner, and continue to make this a focus of our Communications team,” said Turner.
“Recently, we have undertaken a more focused and proactive approach to working with local media outlets on community interest stories, as well as establishing ongoing dialogue on town matters.”
The CAJ, CFE, News Media Canada and CJFE gives out the Code of Silence Award in Federal, Provincial, and Law Enforcement categories, with recipients to be announced in the coming weeks.