At the January 20, 2011 meeting of Melancthon Council there was an item under correspondence wherein clarification was provided as to when ratepayers could submit questions, free of charge, as opposed to when they had to ask questions under Freedom of Information and pay for it.
The Mayor read out the somewhat muddled clarification and the Deputy Mayor advised it was a unanimous decision of Council. A ratepayer questioned how it could be a unanimous decision of Council when no discussion had taken place.
The Mayor advised that the "policy" had been determined by Council through phone calls and they were approving it at the January 20 meeting and they were allowed to do that.
Well not only did the ratepayer beg to differ, so does the Provincial Ombudsman who acts as the closed meeting investigator for many municipalities.
In fact, the Ombudsman, in the Investigation into Council of the Township of Nipissing Special Meeting of April 25, 2008, ruled that in the case where Council held a "telephone meeting" that it was in contravention of the closed meeting provisions in the Municipal Act, 2001.
Hi-lites of the case and the ruling:
On May 5, 2008, a complaint concerning a special meeting held by the council of the Township of Nipissing on April 25, 2008 was received. This meeting was conducted by telephone for the purpose of approving an invoice received earlier that day for a new fire truck. The complainant suggested that since the public couldn’t attend the telephone meeting, it was an unauthorized closed meeting of council.
At 7:20 p.m. on the evening of Friday, April 25, 2008, the Mayor convened the special meeting by initiating a series of individual sequential telephone calls. The meeting was not a teleconference; only the Mayor and one councillor were connected at any given time. One councillor described this as a “phone-around meeting.” The Mayor made separate calls to three councillors, updated them on the reduced invoice amount and obtained their agreement to the invoice. She did not contact the fourth councillor, who she believed was unavailable at that time.
In my view, a meeting of council is not limited to a physical gathering of its members. Sequential telephone conversations of council members, “for the purpose of exercising the power or authority of the council or for the purpose of doing the groundwork necessary to exercise that power or authority,” may constitute a meeting.
Read the entire decision here: http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/media/39181/nipissingfinaleng.pdf
So, from now on, lets have meetings that are to be open to the public, OPEN to the public and all discussions by Council that are to be in open session, discussed in OPEN session.
We can either spend all our time and money on closed meeting investigations or Council can play fair by the rules which are set out by the province and involve the public where they are entitled to be involved.