Current Council spends less time in closed session over first six months

closed session

Closed session will be discussed in June, following a  six-month trial of holding closed sessions, when required, in connection with Council meal breaks

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by Colin Smith

The current Morinville Town Council appears to be spending less meeting time in closed sessions than the previous one.

An analysis by Morinville Online shows that in its first six months the council elected last October held 14 meetings, six of which, 42%, included closed sessions. A total of 6.6 hours was spent in closed sessions, an average of 28 minutes per meeting.

In comparison, eight of the 12 meetings, 66.67%, held in its first sixth months by the council elected in 2017 included closed sessions. There was a total of 7.96 hours of closed session time, for an average of 40 minutes per meeting.

Under Alberta’s Municipal Government Act, council and council committees must conduct their meetings in public as a rule.

That’s unless the matters to be discussed are within one of the exceptions to disclosure under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Act, in which case the council can go into closed session from which the public is excluded.

The act includes more than a dozen exceptions to disclosure that would warrant items being treated in closed session.

These include potential harm to the business interests of a third party, harm to personal privacy, harm to intergovernmental relations, local public body confidences, advice from officials and harm to the economic and other interests of a public body.

Lengthy closed sessions became an issue for some Morinville residents during the tenure of the last council, notably in connection with one such session in January 2019 that resulted in a decision to waive a residential tax bill.

Certain council members also became uneasy about the issue, particularly the closed session standing agenda items CAO Dialogue and Council Dialogue. With the subjects of these discussions not on the agenda, these were seen in some quarters as unduly secretive.

In May council voted to do away with these items in the course of adopting a new procedures bylaw. They were replaced by a measure that allows any council member to add an agenda item to be discussed in a Council meeting closed session.

The newly elected council introduced another change in November when it adjusted the timing of closed sessions from the end of the meeting to during the identified meal break, customarily from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Put forward as enhancing transparency and meeting efficiency, the measure was adopted for a trial run of six months.

Mayor Simon Boersma noted that the topic of closed sessions is scheduled for discussion at the council’s committee of the whole meeting in June.

“We have time set aside to see what administration has for details around the closed session meetings,” he said.

“I think it is important as a council to review the findings and discuss the report in detail at that time. I look forward to seeing it and discussing further.”

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