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May. 20, 2022 | Friday
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Candid on camera: Committee meetings must be broadcast, town says
Town's irrigation committee requested not to hold their meetings in council chambers but committee of the whole rejected it. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Some NOTL councillors spoke out strongly Monday against a request by the town’s irrigation committee to hold its meetings “off-camera.”

The irrigation committee, with Kevin Buis as chair and Walter Konik as vice-chair, asked the town not to broadcast its meetings to the public as the committee often has to deal with local growers’ confidential and personal information.

The committee also requested its meetings be held in the operations board room instead of the council chambers.

Coun. Stuart McCormack said a motion to approve the request contravened the Municipal Act which states, “All meetings should be open to the public.”

“I appreciate that at times it will make life difficult for them but, nonetheless, there’s a statutory obligation for a public meeting and they just have to structure their meeting the same way that we’re, unfortunately, forced to structure ours and do their in-camera business at some point in time,” he said.

While legally, most meetings must be open and transparent, the act allows municipal organizations to hold parts of their meetings in private, but there are strict and specific guidelines for doing so. Among the reasons for holding so-called in-camera meetings are: security issues, personnel matters, litigation or trade secrets. 

Coun. Allan Bisback agreed with McCormack.

“While I understand, there are certain sensitivities, they should be able to manage those sensitivities with an in-camera meeting,” he said.

Coun. Clare Cameron spoke strongly against the idea, saying it “really concerns” her.

“I see no need how these concerns that have been described cannot already be met by provisions in the Municipal Act,” she said. “It’s Ontario law.”

“Part of my concern about this motion comes from the desire to protect the people that come forward and offer their time on these committees,” Cameron said.

“I would never want to see someone who has offered their time as a volunteer be subject to an ombudsman’s investigation because a member of the public was suddenly concerned, ‘Why is this so hard for me to watch this one on a webcast, why can’t I find out what’s on their agenda?’ “ she said.

“So, for that reason, I would strongly encourage that this motion not be supported and that instead the irrigation committee be encouraged to use the powers that are available to them under the Municipal Act to move into closed sessions when necessary.”

Municipal clerk Peter Todd said town staff agrees with Cameron’s position that the committee’s meetings should be available to the public online.

Coun. John Wiens had a different opinion.

“If we need to tape it, we certainly can tape it over there (in the operations board room) as well if need be. The irrigation chair and committee were hoping it would be status-quo as what we were doing the last number of years,” Wiens said. 

The irrigation committee has never held its meetings in the councils chambers, Wiens told The Lake Report.

“They’ve always been either in Centennial Arena or in the operations (room),” he said in an interview.

“It’s always been open to the public. It’s always been open to the irrigation community and farming community. It’s not private or not being held secretly. It’s always been listed and open. Just there are sometimes sensitive issues that need to be discussed quietly, I guess, or in-camera.”

Cameron motioned to remove the recommendation from the irrigation committee’s minutes and that motion was carried.