I wanted to post a sneak-peak of something I’ve been chipping away at all summer, inspired by some outrage at an ‘education session’ held behind closed doors at a township meeting I attended back in July.
As a result, I have spent the past few months analyzing council minutes from our nine municipalities here in Oxford, tracking when and why each particular council went behind closed doors. To be fair and consistent, the time period studied was Jan. 2008 to June 2009, a total of 18 months, and one that included each council’s budget sessions for both last year and this year.
I tracked each meeting and looked at whether or not in that meeting council went behind closed doors to discuss something, and why they did so. The chart above is a sneak peak at some of the results, showing how many times all nine councils met behind closed doors to discuss each topic. The meat of the analysis — including which council(s) meet behind closed doors most often and which do so the fewest times — is yet to come in the paper, with additional post(s) here.
As a reminder, the relevant section of the Ontario Municipal Act is pasted below.
Meetings open to public
239. (1) Except as provided in this section, all meetings shall be open to the public. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (1).
(2) A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is,
(a) the security of the property of the municipality or local board;
(b) personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;
(c) a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;
(d) labour relations or employee negotiations;
(e) litigation or potential litigation, including matters before administrative tribunals, affecting the municipality or local board;
(f) advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose;
(g) a matter in respect of which a council, board, committee or other body may hold a closed meeting under another Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (2).
(3) A meeting shall be closed to the public if the subject matter relates to the consideration of a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act if the council, board, commission or other body is the head of an institution for the purposes of that Act. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (3).
Educational or training sessions
(3.1) A meeting of a council or local board or of a committee of either of them may be closed to the public if the following conditions are both satisfied:
1. The meeting is held for the purpose of educating or training the members.
2. At the meeting, no member discusses or otherwise deals with any matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council, local board or committee. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 103 (1).
(4) Before holding a meeting or part of a meeting that is to be closed to the public, a municipality or local board or committee of either of them shall state by resolution,
(a) the fact of the holding of the closed meeting and the general nature of the matter to be considered at the closed meeting; or
(b) in the case of a meeting under subsection (3.1), the fact of the holding of the closed meeting, the general nature of its subject-matter and that it is to be closed under that subsection. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (4); 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 103 (2).
(5) Subject to subsection (6), a meeting shall not be closed to the public during the taking of a vote. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (5).
(6) Despite section 244, a meeting may be closed to the public during a vote if,
(a) subsection (2) or (3) permits or requires the meeting to be closed to the public; and
(b) the vote is for a procedural matter or for giving directions or instructions to officers, employees or agents of the municipality, local board or committee of either of them or persons retained by or under a contract with the municipality or local board. 2001, c. 25, s. 239 (6).
Record of meeting
(7) A municipality or local board or a committee of either of them shall record without note or comment all resolutions, decisions and other proceedings at a meeting of the body, whether it is closed to the public or not. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 103 (3).
(8) The record required by subsection (7) shall be made by,
(a) the clerk, in the case of a meeting of council; or
(b) the appropriate officer, in the case of a meeting of a local board or committee. 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 103 (3).
Record may be disclosed
(9) Clause 6 (1) (b) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act does not apply to a record of a meeting closed under subsection (3.1). 2006, c. 32, Sched. A, s. 103 (3).