Oliver council shedding light on closed-door meetings

Policy calls for a quarterly review of in-camera minutes, and subsequent release of resolutions that no longer need to be kept hidden

Oliver town council is poised to become one of the few in the Okanagan that routinely releases some details about what is discussed at its closed-door meetings.

Public bodies are permitted to hold so-called in-camera meetings on a broad set of topics — generally land, labour and legal issues — but are not compelled to bring the substance of such discussions to light, even if it’s no longer a secret.

The policy that will go before Oliver council on Monday calls for a quarterly review of in-camera minutes, and the subsequent release of whatever resolutions were adopted at those meetings that no longer need to be kept hidden.

Mayor Ron Hovanes was quick to note, however, that it won’t result in a free-for-all on the town’s secrets.

“There are a number of things that take place in closed meetings — legal issues or personnel issues — that will be forever closed,” he said.

“But there are items that reach a point, for example if the town is selling off property and the transaction is completed and negotiations are over, then it’s time to make those types of things public if they can be made public,” Hovanes said.

While the idea has been discussed at various times throughout his political career, he continued, “as a practice, it just hasn’t been done too much in the last little while.”

And it should go a long way toward satisfying an engaged citizenry.

“Some taxpayers are curious, and they deserve to be,” Hovanes said.

“The whole idea is at the end of the day, as a local government, you want to be as transparent and accountable as you can be.”

Penticton Mayor Dan Ashton said his council regularly brings things forward from closed meetings the same day, but he said the idea of a thorough, regular review is “an interesting proposal,” and one he will seek to have added to the next council agenda.

“I think openness and transparency in any government is very good,” Ashton said.

An open-information advocate applauded Oliver’s direction.

“It’s part of a trend, I think, and those who resist it will have a very hard time justifying it to their electorate.” said Vincent Gogolek, executive director of the non-profit B.C. Freedom of Information and Privacy Society

“As a society, we should be looking at having everything available unless there’s a very good reason not to.”

Vernon city council also does a routine release of in-camera resolutions, although no such mechanism is in place anywhere else in the Okanagan. Vancouver and Dawson Creek are among the other B.C. cities that do so.

“We’re glad to see municipalities embracing transparency like this,” Gogolek said, “because this is something that city councils can do directly on their own say so.”