Jamie Smith, tbnewswatch.com
THUNDER BAY -- City council this term met behind closed doors more than 30 times a year on average, but one city official says that’s just a reality for running a city.
An average of 34 closed sessions have been scheduled every year, not including the times council have gone behind closed doors during public meetings, since 2010. Legal, property, personnel and security matters have to be in camera under the Municipal Act.
"It's more a matter of meeting those conditions as opposed to how many times or how many reports or how many meetings," city clerk John Hannam said. "That's just the nature of business for municipalities these days."
Council tries to do as much as possible in public but complex issues sometimes need to be dealt with in private.
The number of closed sessions has increased over the years but so has the number of reports and discussions in public meetings.
"The way we operate has changed over time as it does for any organization," Hannam said.
The number is high but it also reflects the amount of work council is doing mayor Keith Hobbs said. Council has also been dealing with huge number of legal issues from the 2012 flood to Horizon Wind, which has to be done behind closed doors. But the city has also seen a record number of building permits, leading to property matters that is actually a good thing for Thunder Bay because it shows the city is growing Hobbs said.
"Yes we have to be secretive at some times but eventually the issue comes out to the public," he said.
Coun. Ken Boshcoff said it's also the reality of living in a more litigious society. Some people see the city as an organization with deep pockets. Every time there's a legal issues, whether it's valid or not, council has to discuss it.
"There is a necessity in terms of trying to get these addressed property," he said.
Boshcoff would like to see the length of time spent in camera addressed though. Often councillors are asking questions that they wouldn't need to if they had read the reports before going into a meeting.
The public can file a complaint if it thinks council is going into closed session unnecessarily through a closed meeting investigator.
A report is coming to council Monday night after one such complaint, only the third filed against the city since 2007. In the report, closed meeting investigator Paul Heayn recommends that council realize the significance of the public's right to know.
When coming back into open session they discuss relevant content so that the public sees how council reached its decision.