EDITORIAL: Secret governing

Residents should not blindly accept the use of closed-door meetings in municipal politics

We should all be vigilant about what gets discussed and decided by elected officials behind closed doors.

The provincial guidelines about what should and should not be discussed by city councillors during in camera sessions are vague at best, as we have written here previously. It’s our view the Community Charter, depending on how it’s interpreted, allows for just about anything to be discussed behind closed doors.

Last night, Parksville city council was scheduled to kick the public out of chambers so it could discuss “the security of the property of the municipality,” one of the ridiculously vague allowances in the charter (90.1 c). Other provisions — like the possibility of potential litigation — are so wide open pretty much anything can be discussed behind closed doors.

City councillors and city staff are not supposed to speak publicly about the details of what is going to be discussed in camera. We have learned last night’s discussion was scheduled to be centred around the future of what has been the most successful event in the 15-year history of the Parksville Community and Conference Centre (PCCC), the What Women Want show (see story in today’s paper, page A3).

The PCCC receives hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in taxpayer subsidies. It is operated by a non-profit society, which presumably deals with any staff issues. Therefore, those who work at the PCCC are employees of the society, not the city, an important distinction for this in camera debate.

So why was the discussion last night, if it indeed happened, behind closed doors?

When there is a lack of information, people fill the void. Last night’s in camera discussions were about the “security” of the PCCC. Has there been a terrorist threat related to the PCCC? As silly as that may sound, there is no other information in the public arena to mollify fears, as wild as they may be.

A member of the public has brought forward to council some concerns about the ability to rent a facility the city subsidizes. Safety is an issue. The city could very well foist all of this on the society that runs the facility, wash its hands of the matter, but it has not. So why have this discussion behind closed doors?

These days, the fashionable thing to espouse on the campaign trail for those seeking elected office is transparency and openness. Since the Community Charter pretty much allows everything to be legally discussed behind closed doors, taxpayers need an elected champion for open debate, a councillor who publicly questions why discussions are not being conducted in public. Up to now, this city council has no such champion.

— Editorial by John Harding