Tag Archives: in-camera

City Council Meeting Mar 26, 2018

Council had a single public meeting on Monday Mar 26.

Unfortunately due to technical issues beyond our control we were not able to live stream the meeting . . . but we did record it and you can watch it (or whatever piece you want from it) below.

It was also a brief meeting. Question period took up almost half the time as the pie shows.

What did they talk about? Well

 

You may watch the meeting from the beginning here

Grand Forks Art Gallery Revised Lease Agreement Cannabis survey results Boundary Museum - 2017 budget carried to 2018 UBCM - Provincial response to 2017 resolutions put forward Five Year Financial Plan Bylaw No. 2045 Questions From Public and Media

Evidence? OR Minutes?

After the last few council meetings a lot of people in town are either taking sides, kvetching or scratching their heads over the behavior that’s been alluded to (from in-camera meetings) and shown in public. And if you watch those meetings you’d be tempted to do the same.

I won’t bother trying to rehash old arguments or point a finger of blame. I won’t try to persuade you off your position as to who might be in the right (or wrong). I won’t apologize for anyone’s behaviors.

What I will try to point out is that what we see spilling over into the open public meetings is the residue of things that have happened out of our sight and hearing. So we’re not getting the whole picture. Which means if you’ve made up your mind and taken a side you’re doing so based on incomplete information.

Here’s what I see and think is going on – feel free to discount my opinions.

City Council is a group. It’s made up of individuals who don’t agree on things or see things the same way. From the start it was a divided group: some were from the previous council, some were new and some were itching to ‘fix’ what they saw as a mistake (or worse) of that previous council. (or course I’m referring to the Universal Water Meter program)

This created a tempestuous situation which hasn’t really subsided.

Group Dynamics is a well-studied field. Whole systems have been devised to try and understand how groups function (or not) and help them work out ways to get to functionality without members of the group feeling like they’ve had to give up their ideas and stances.

My late wife had a lot of experience being a group facilitator. She’d learned the True Colors (1, 2) and Personality Dimensions programs to the point of being a trainer.

These systems help people understand that others do not see things as they do. That this doesn’t mean they are being intransigent or obstructive when they don’t agree – it just means they do not see things the same as you. That this difference doesn’t mean one is wrong and the other right – many things don’t have that clarity. A few days of engaging in well managed group workshops conducted by experienced facilitators makes a huge difference in a group’s abilities to function well (or at all).

Whenever she had to work with a group on a project that was going to take 4 weeks or more she’d spend the first week or so doing group dynamics. She did this because her experience showed her that it was helpful in getting the members of the group to understand each other, escape the trap of gut reactions leading to actions leading to group relationship problems. Problems that can become ossified making the group ineffective at best and toxic at worst.

Well no one did that with our council. That’s too bad for all of us. Really. Because it means that not only do big things become points of argument but small things become sources of friction as well.

In the last meeting one councilor complained that the unending clicking of the keys on the laptops of those on either side of her caused her to have to move her seat. Another pointed out that some members’ need to keep detailed notes causes them to have to have some things repeated because their note taking gets in the way of their paying close enough attention. And the council members who are the target of these comments appear to feel these might be tinged with personal animosity.

These are the kind of things that a good group facilitator would find and deal with so that two years on they aren’t still problems. They’re also the kind of things that won’t ever go away if not dealt with sufficiently.

In the last council meeting Councilor Tripp suggested that In-Camera meetings be recorded, by which she meant an audio recording. Other councilors asked why should we do that if minutes are being taken.

It’s clear to me that Tripp’s reasoning is that she doesn’t trust staff to do the job correctly every time and would like the audio recordings as evidence just in case there’s doubt or dispute.

I posed a question to her: If you are going to record meetings why not audio and video? You can hear her response in the meeting recording. I will flesh out my reasoning here.

Minutes are the recording of what went on that was germane to the topic being decided on. Who proposed what. What was said by whom. What was decided. Who voted which way.

What Minutes do not show is every incidental comment or sub-topic or process of clarification. They aren’t supposed to be verbatim recordings or everything.

Evidence is different from Minutes.

Sometimes in the public meeting we know something has gone on behind the scenes. It’s like there’s blood in the water but we can’t see who was doing the cutting, who was cut and why. We have no evidence. And if, as many want, an arbiter / finder of facts were to be brought in to find out if bullying is really going on we would want best evidence, wouldn’t we?

Simply recording the audio would be insufficient to show what is really happening. Very much of human interaction takes place non-verbally. Many of the things that tick people off aren’t heard.

The rolling of eyes, and gestures with hands (like flipping the bird, making the coocoo / crazy motion), sticking out of tongues, and all facial expressions would not appear in any audio-only recordings. The person tasked with deciding whether things are correctly being done or not starts with incomplete information and then has to try and decipher / understand the rest.

I suspect the audio-only recordings would end up being peppered with ‘let the record show that so-and-so expressed a derisive look at the comment’ and such things. Just to get these things on the record.

I would put forward the notion that IF recordings of in-camera meetings were to be done that they use a 360-video camera system that can see and hear everyone. Anything less is open to question and abuse.

What we see going on with council that we don’t like, the emotional side of things, is hanging around from meetings and interactions out of camera, and public, view. They came in with a fight and even if that fight is done they have carried a fight on to some degree or other since. It’s cost us a lot of money already and may in the future.

It’s like dealing with kids. I personally don’t care who was looking at who, bumping whose chair. Do you believe this one over that one about things that you didn’t see happen? Do you? Ask yourself why. Then ask yourself how many of your tax dollars do you want to go to lawyers to salve hurt feelings on council.

Some see the Mayor’s words and actions in the last meeting as a bit heavy handed. A member of the public had to leave the meeting because they spoke out of turn and refused to conform to the rules of the meeting. The Mayor warned a councilor when he felt her words strayed into areas of legality.

I would point out that the rules of the meeting prevent the public in the gallery from participating in the meeting until the assigned Questions from the public and media portion. To keep the meeting from being hijacked by angry members of the public is part of the Mayor’s job.

And I’d rather see the Mayor caution a council member before it gets to something we’ll have to pay lawyers to resolve. Some might think that a councilor should be able to say anything they want to but that is not the way it works. I’ve had enough of expensive legal wrangling and I’d hope others have as well. (of course if you don’t live or pay taxes in the city you might not have that compunction)

So I don’t really have a suggestion so much as a plea for council to get its act together and stop the bickering before it heads off on expensive jaunts to Victoria or court once again. I worry this is futile because it looks like there are some who just won’t give up the yen to punish some on council (and by proxy all of us taxpayers).

And for those who know my role as recorder / purveyor of council meetings and suspect I might have some commercial interest in bringing all this up let me be perfectly clear on this point: I receive NO MONEY from the City of Grand Forks for what I do. None. Nada. Zilch. I would not want to be in the position of recorder OR keeper of recordings of in-camera meetings Nor would I want to be involved in selling, installing or maintaining any systems to do this. I don’t want the job or the headaches and I certainly don’t need the suspicious people hanging more conspiracies around my neck.

CAO Severance and Rehiring

Setlle Down Logo Animated2midThe way the city’s CAO, Doug Allin, was let go and then rehired a few months later has generated some controversy. With a local being interviewed on CBC Radio earlier this week it has begun to heat up.

The article on CBC has caused people to begin talking again and the City to issue a Press Release. Perhaps it’s too late to point at the little slogan below the sign. The one that says ‘Settle Down’. Maybe having that there has worked in reverse … ?

UPDATE: Added quote, from my contribution to another conversation, before part on Section 90

The City’s Press Release:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
RESPONSE FROM CITY OF GRAND FORKS RE: CAO SEVERANCE AND REHIRING April 17, 2015

Grand Forks, BC – Doug Allin was rehired by Grand Forks City Council in February 2015 after his contract was terminated by the previous Council in November 2014. He was paid out, as per the conditions of his contract, in the amount of $190,000.

City of Grand Forks Mayor Frank Konrad notes that “the termination was not shrouded in secrecy as some members of the public have stated. Many CAO’s are let go without cause and this was exactly the case for Mr. Allin. The details of his termination have been released to the public on at least two occasions through the Freedom of Information Act.”

Council made the decision to rehire Allin after spending several weeks working through the hiring process and not finding what they were looking for. According to Councillor Colleen Ross, “Allin’s name came into the equation when, as a group, they narrowed down what the organization needed in order to be successful and move forward in the business of the City.” She also pointed out that when she ran for council she ran with the assumption that she would be working with Doug Allin, and was looking forward to that opportunity.

Council did its due diligence when hiring Mr. Allin, as they would have for any new candidate that was being considered for the position. A fair contract was negotiated with Mr. Allin that benefited the City. Had a new CAO been hired and relocated to Grand Forks, the cost to the organization would have been substantially higher.

It is understandable that there is a small contingent of the public that has reservations regarding the severance and rehiring of Mr. Allin. However, the City has had mostly positive feedback regarding Council’s decision.


A number of people have remarked on the way these decisions were done using in-camera (aka ‘secret’) meetings.

Section 90 is the part of the Local Government Act laying Municipal governance rules that deal with these sorts of meetings. It sets forth two lists of topics which can be dealt with in in-camera meetings.

One list is mandatory – these topics always have to be dealt with in secret.

The other is optional – these topics do not have to be dealt with in secret. That is up to the City Council itself.

Activities that have to do with Hiring and Labour Relations are in the optional list.

(I’m quoting myself from a FaceBook conversation here) I’m curious how this gets dealt with in other jurisdictions … the ‘optional’s are 15 items (a thru o) in section 90.1. Has anyone done a comparison between various BC jurisdictions and how often these sub-sections are cited by council’s when going in-camera? Because Prior Requirements (Section 92)(b) says that they not only have to say they are going to have an in-camera meeting but which subsection is being invoked to do it as well. So that would be in the minutes of councils … something for retired civil servants to do when they find time on their hands. Once all the minutes / agendas are available online from all municipalities it becomes something almost possible for one person. Certainly possible for a group of individuals … tracking and comparing municipal governments across the province.

From the Councillors’ Handbook:

Open Meetings (89)
As under the previous Acts, council meetings must be open to the public, except as permitted under section 90. Bylaws must be read and adopted in open session.

Closed Meetings (90)

Part of a council meeting may be closed to the public (in camera), but the subject matter is limited to the lists in s. 90 [see the Appendix for the text of section 90]. The discretionary list is in s. 90(1) and the mandatory list is in s. 90(2).
The proceedings and minutes of in camera meetings may be withheld from public disclosure (but see the 15 year rule in s. 12(2)(a) of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act).
Councillors must keep the process confidential (117)

Persons Attending (91)

Staff members may be excluded from in camera meetings, but not Councillors. The minutes must disclose the names of all person present at a closed meeting.

Prior Requirements (92)

Before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a council must state, by resolution passed in a public meeting,

(a) the fact that the meeting or part is to be closed, and
(b) the basis under the applicable subsection of section 90 on which the meeting or part is to be closed.

Other Bodies (93)
The open and closed meeting rules apply to

• council committees
• municipal commissions (s. 143)
• parcel tax roll review panel
• board of variance
• advisory body established by council
• a body that under the Charter or any other Act may exercise the powers of a council
• a body prescribed by legislation

Closed meeting (90)

(1) A part of a council meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to or is one or more of the following:

(a) personal information about an identifiable individual who holds or is being considered for a position as an officer, employee or agent of the municipality or another position appointed by the municipality;
(b) personal information about an identifiable individual who is being considered for a municipal award or honour, or who has offered to provide a gift to the municipality on condition of anonymity;
(c) labour relations or other employee relations;
(d) the security of the property of the municipality;
(e) the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality;
(f) law enforcement, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the conduct of an investigation under or enforcement of an enactment;
(g) litigation or potential litigation affecting the municipality;
(h) an administrative tribunal hearing or potential administrative tribunal hearing affecting the municipality, other than a hearing to be conducted by the council or a delegate of council;
(i) the receipt of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
(j) information that is prohibited, or information that if it were presented in a document would be prohibited, from disclosure under section 21 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act;
(k) negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public;
(l) discussions with municipal officers and employees respecting municipal objectives, measures and progress reports for the purposes of preparing an annual report under section 98 [annual municipal report];
(m) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public may be excluded from the meeting;
(n) the consideration of whether a council meeting should be closed under a provision of this subsection or subsection (2);
(o) the consideration of whether the authority under section 91 [other persons attending closed meetings] should be exercised in relation to a council meeting.

(2) A part of a council meeting must be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to one or more of the following:

(a) a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, if the council is designated as head of the local public body for the purposes of that Act in relation to the matter;
(b) the consideration of information received and held in confidence relating to negotiations between the municipality and a provincial government or the federal government or both, or between a provincial government or the federal government or both and a third party;
(c) a matter that is being investigated under the Ombudsman Act of which the municipality has been notified under section 14 [ombudsman to notify authority] 111 of that Act;
(d) a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public must be excluded from the meeting.

(3) If the only subject matter being considered at a council meeting is one or more matters referred to in subsection (1) or (2), the applicable subsection applies to the entire meeting.