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Town council in-camera session raises protocol issues

Posted on December 18, 2014 by Taber Times

By Trevor Busch
Taber Times

Discussion of town contributions to community organizations in the proposed 2015 operating budget was held in camera following a resolution by town council.

During a special budget meeting on Dec. 3, following initial deliberation town council voted unanimously to continue discussion of the matter in closed session, which bars members of the public or media from participation.

“These requests from community organizations — we’re not married to these figures, are we?” questioned Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux, during the initial discussion. “I think there might have to be some discussion on one or two of them.”

The proposed 2015 operating budget has been prepared using the figures presented to council from various community organizations, including the Taber Public Library ($229,463, or a 2.2 per cent increase); the Taber Handi-Bus Association ($52,400, or a 24.8 per cent increase); the Taber and District Chamber of Commerce ($18,500, or a 7.5 per cent decrease); the Taber Museum Society ($8,104, no change); Taber Communities in Bloom ($7,000, no change); Taber Food Bank ($1,850, or a 8.8 per cent increase).

“Just wondering about the handi-bus, there’s an almost 25 per cent increase, what’s happening there?” queried Coun. Jack Brewin.

Director of community services Dale Culler indicated challenges had emerged for the organization on the revenue side.

“When the handi-bus came to present, they listed some of the challenges they had. There were some challenges, I think, on the revenue side.”

Under guidelines laid down by Alberta Municipal Affairs, as an elected body municipal councils should avoid conducting business in-camera, including discussion of difficult topics such as budget deliberations, capital expenditures, tax recoveries, salary ranges or hiring of additional municipal staff, bylaw amendments, subdivision proposals and any contentious issues such as sensitive local issues.

Section 197 of the Municipal Government Act (MGA) states that councils and council committees must conduct their meetings in public unless the matter to be discussed is within one of the exceptions to disclosure in Division 2 of Part 1 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy (FOIP) Act (Sec. 16-29). These limited exceptions for discussion include third party business interests (Sec. 16), third party personal privacy (Sec. 17), individual or public safety (Sec. 18-19), law enforcement (Sec. 20), intergovernmental relations (Sec. 21-24), and economic or other interests (Sec. 25-29).

The MGA sets out clear requirements for municipal councils to conduct their business openly, except in very limited and specific circumstances. According to Alberta Municipal Affairs, the “powers of a municipal council are balanced by councils’ accountability to the citizens who elect them. It is therefore essential that citizens are allowed to take an active interest in the development and direction of our local governments and express views to their locally elected representatives”.

A motion to defer discussion of the issue for closed session was put forward by Coun. Ross-Giroux, and was passed unanimously.

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