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Discussing indoor turf proposals behind closed doors justified, review finds

Complaint to the City of Thunder Bay’s closed session meeting investigator was later withdrawn.
North Shore Indoor Soccer League
The City of Thunder Bay has received eight proposals to build an indoor turf facility. (North Shore Indoor Soccer League)

THUNDER BAY – The City of Thunder Bay’s decision to keep proposals to build a controversial indoor sports complex under wraps is justified under provincial law, a review has found.

The review was prompted by a complaint in November of 2021 to the city's closed session meeting investigator, Paul Heayn.

The unnamed complainant objected to city council’s decision to go behind closed doors to review proposals from the private sector to build a proposed indoor turf facility.

“The complainant believe[d] that tabling the report in camera was improper and that the administrative report and the subsequent discussion by council should have been held in open session,” Heayn wrote in a letter reviewing the matter.

That person later withdrew their complaint after discussion with Heayn, who indicated he was satisfied the city’s reasons were legitimate under Ontario’s Municipal Act.

Specifically, Heayn pointed to sections allowing private discussion of commercial and technical information that could compromise the city’s negotiating position.

The city received eight proposals to build a multi-use sports facility in response to an expression or interest process that concluded in November. City council had hoped the process would unearth more affordable alternatives to a previous $39 million design it rejected over cost concerns.

Staff recommended those proposals be reviewed only privately until the city receives an answer on its application for more than $22 million in federal funds. The city is still awaiting that answer, said general manager of community services Kelly Robertson.

Reached Thursday, Heayn described the complaint as an open-and-shut case, saying council had clear reasons to discuss the issue privately. The city’s legal department had also provided an opinion supporting the move, he said.

The Municipal Act stipulates a meeting can be closed to the public to discuss subjects including “a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information, supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board, which, if disclosed, could reasonably be expected to prejudice significantly the competitive position or interfere significantly with the contractual or other negotiations of a person, group of persons, or organization.”

A report to council was not technically required, since the complainant withdrew their complaint. In a memo to council, city clerk Krista Power suggested the information was still important to share with council and the public.

“My office takes pride in upholding the exceptions provided for in the Municipal Act and advises council and administration on a regular basis relative whether an item can be discussed in closed session or not,” she also wrote. “The investigation revealed our advice met the requirements and the legislative threshold to meet in closed session.”

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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