EDITORIAL: Demand open local government

There are far too many issues being dealt with behind closed doors on the Peninsula

There are far too many issues being dealt with behind closed doors on the Peninsula.

It’s a common occurrence to see local municipal councils in North Saanich and Sidney take to an in-camera meeting at almost every single gathering they hold — and this has been going on for at least the last eight months and it’s just too much municipal business out of the public eye.

For a council to take matters in-camera (the term for allowable secret meetings under the Local Government Act), the issue will generally follow these three guidelines: the matter at hand will be about labour (personnel) issues that could identify an individual directly or compromise negotiations; land purchases and sales, which the release of information to the public could cost the municipality money, and; legal issues. This includes things such as lawyer opinions and lawsuits.

On at least a couple of occasions, the District of North Saanich in particular has discussed certain topics in-camera and have stretched those categories to make them fit. Asked why the frequency of such meeting is so high, most councillors can’t answer, or simply shrug it off.

The most recent was council’s debate over how to respond to public complaints made by a developer about the alleged actions of council and staff. The issue was made public at a regular council meeting and responded to at the time by mayor and council.

North Saanich politicians took it further, went in-camera to talk about it, then came back with a similar statement decrying the complaint.

Mayor Alice Finall would not say if council investigated the claims against staff, but said the issue was about staff and therefore, a reason to go in-camera. Councillor Craig Mearns said they only talked in generalities and did not investigate staff. He could not explain why the matter was taken in-camera in the first place.

When discussions such as this happen away from public scrutiny, it raises more questions about what is being decided upon by our elected officials. It erodes trust and makes people wonder why there seems to be so much to hide.

Residents need to demand accountable, open local government, with a lot fewer meetings behind closed doors.