One of our new councilors, Brian Davis, has had some serious concerns that the Town of Lunenburg was in violation of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) which is very specific for what can be discussed in secret.
Let me tell you a bit about Brian, he is the most gosh golly, good natured, feller you'll ever meet. He speaks very slowly and is wont to stop mid phrase to give you a hug. He kind of reminds me of Jim Nabors. But don't let his mannerisms fool you. He is very smart, very principled and he will relentlessly fight for what is right. He is progressive and welcoming. In short, Lunenburg is lucky to have him.
Here are the minutes, describing the in camera meeting that caused Brian to be concerned.
Brian is right to be concerned. I am concerned. Here's why...
1- It was decided, in camera, to forgive The Lunenburg Academy of Music (LAMP) their rent from May- November, 2016. O.K. Let's talk about that.
I love having LAMP occupy the third floor of the Lunenburg Academy. They enhance the town and I wish them every success in the world, but there are approximately 700 households in the Town of Lunenburg that are footing the bill for a very expensive repurposing of the former school. If the town is forgiving LAMP their rent, it means that they are asking the tax payers of Lunenburg to foot the bill instead. If I had had the opportunity to hear the rational behind this decision I might be happy to be a part of this charitable donation, but I prefer to have a say in how my money is being spent. Perhaps the town can claim that this is a negotiation regarding a lease and therefore is acceptable to discuss in private, but why would they do that?
One of the reasons that the province allows in camera meetings is because a municipality might be negotiating with different parties and you wouldn't want to show your hand to the other parties. In this case, there is no other party. It's LAMP and the the town (us), so why be secretive? If the town respects its citizens they should let us witness the debate, not treat us like it's none of our business.
2- LAMP nominated the town for the NS Community Arts and Culture Award. The nature of this award is to then give the money back to the nominator (LAMP). They did not do that. They put it directly in the town coffers. O.K. they kept the money to offset the rent, but this is fabulously non-transparent. How much was the rent? What are the tax payers of Lunenburg donating to LAMP on top of what we are paying to repurpose the Academy. Enquiring minds want to know. Again, I love LAMP, but I also love transparency. The two should not be mutually exclusive.
3- Brian Davis expressed his concern that the MGA expressly forbids any decision to be made in an in camera meeting. Council can make a recommendation to staff or legal council, but the recommendation has to come forward in an open meeting. They cannot vote in camera. The town solicitor explained that the vote that happens in camera isn't actually a vote. The vote has no teeth.... Here's where I start banging my head. The minutes state, MOTION CARRIED. Yes, everything can be twisted to mean anything if we pay lawyers thousand of dollars to do the twisting, but the MGA should be reasonably understandable to a citizen. Most people read, motion carried, to mean, motion carried. A decision was made. Once the issue reaches the open meeting, the public hears nothing about how the decision was reached or even what council was talking about. The mayor asks for a councilor to approve the minutes from the in camera meeting and another councilor seconds the motion. End of the story. The public is left in the dark.
I guess even Mayor Bailey felt the final decision was made in camera because she spoke about the arrangement with LAMP to Lighthouse Now, well before the minutes were approved.
4- At yesterday's council meeting, Brian requested that the minutes be read aloud. His motion was defeated 5-2. Why? If Lunenburg is so transparent, why deny his request? To what end? The minutes are public if you look for them, so what's the big deal? It was the simplest of asks and it was overwhelmingly shot down. If council has nothing to hide, why work so hard to hide it?
See, we can debate what is allowed to happen in camera until the cows come home, but If council respects the people they serve then they will go to every length possible to keep all discussion out of private meetings, not find the legal loop hole to do the opposite.
What next? Well, I heard Mayor Bailey on CBC this morning talking about bringing in a municipal lawyer to work with council. That can't be cheap. I hear that the Department of Municipal Affairs will do the same job for free, but the mayor needs to request it. Why not get the information we need to understand that everything is on the up and up, straight from the horse's mouth? I really don't have money to throw around...and that is our money you are throwing around.