Closed meetings down, not out at White Rock city hall

There were fewer closed meetings at White Rock city hall in 2012 than in each of the two years prior.

City clerk Tracey Arthur confirmed last month that 18 in-camera meetings were held over the course of the year, down from 25 in 2011 and 29 in 2010.

Keeping the meetings to a minimum – and pre-scheduled closed sessions to nil – was among pledges made by Mayor Wayne Baldwin when he took office in November 2011.

Baldwin said last month that all of the 2012 closed meetings were necessary, and he expects they will continue to be held about once a month, “hopefully less.”

While issues on the agenda are often “not big things,” council is obligated to discuss them privately, he said.

“We had one to talk about who we should select for the Diamond Jubilee,” Baldwin said.

In his inaugural speech as mayor, on Dec. 5, 2011, Baldwin said the new council would only hold closed meetings if they had to.

“Moreover, the criteria for deciding if they are to be held will not be, ‘how can we take this in-camera?’ but rather, ‘does this have to be in-camera?’” he said.

According to the city’s 2010 annual report, council held more closed meetings (24) that year than it did regular council meetings (22). Five committee meetings were also closed to the public.

In 2011, there were 14 closed meetings and 11 closed committee meetings. Three of the 18 closed sessions in 2012 were finance and audit committee meetings.

Under the B.C. Community Charter, only four matters are identified as matters that must be discussed behind closed doors: a request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; information about negotiations involving the local government and a provincial or federal government or both; an investigation under the Ombudsman Act; and, a matter that, under another enactment, is such that the public must be excluded from the meeting.

Another 15 matters “may” be dealt with in-camera, the charter states. Those range from personal information about an employee and labour relations to litigation and discussions with municipal officers for the purposes of preparing an annual report.

Baldwin said city business should be done in the open as much as possible.

According to a clerk at the City of Surrey, closed meetings in that city are routinely held prior to regular council meetings. Records show that in 2012, 20 closed meetings were held.

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