EDITORIAL: City council continues to close the doors

It's time some elected officials stepped up and took a stand for open government

Parksville city council went behind closed doors again Monday night, the fifth such meeting since June 14.

The reasoning behind the in-camera session on July 13 takes the cake: “to consider an item relating to municipal objectives.”

Thing is, the Community Charter, the book of laws by which B.C. municipalities must abide, allows for these shenanigans. And so much more.

There are about 15 official reasons a city council can close its doors to the prying eyes of the public and media. Some of them make good sense. Some of them are so vaguely worded one could justify closing the doors for each and every bit of business considered by a council.

One of our favourites is this one (Community Charter Sec. 90.1.g): “A part of a council meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered relates to litigation or potential litigation affecting the municipality.”

We know a bit about this litigation thing. Every word we publish, from coverage of a bake sale to a grumpy editorial, could be considered fodder for potential litigation.

The local Pickleball Club, for example, recently asked the city to paint some lines on city-owned courts. Harmless enough, one would think. However, the city could close the discussion of that issue to the public because it’s possible it could face litigation from tennis players who believe the enjoyment of their sport is compromised by the new lines all over their playing surface. In fact, those extra lines could cause a tennis player to stumble, be injured, etc.

So, because the Community Charter allows for behind-closed-door discussions for pretty much everything, it’s up to local politicians to champion the cause of open and accountable government.

That’s not happening in Parksville. Councillors accept staff suggestions to cut the public out of the loop, seemingly without question.

Staff at the City of Parksville have proven to be talented, professional and are well-led. That is not the issue here. They are not, however, elected by the people to represent the people.

It is not reasonable or responsible, Mayor Marc Lefebvre, to give this same response every time you are questioned about the reasoning behind the need for closed-door meetings, a sentence we’ve heard you say time and time again:

“That’s what staff recommends.”

— Editorial by John Harding

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