Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

By Gerry Barker

March 22, 2018

Donald Trump is still trying to get his $18 billion wall proposal to be built between Mexico and the U.S. Cam Guthrie has succeeded in erecting a wall to protect his council and city staff from public participation in city business.

He does it by calling closed-sessions of council to discuss contentious subjects and make decisions that almost all of the people know any of the outcome.

Just ask the 22 delegates who opposed the merger during the open council meeting to approve the merger of Guelph Hydro and Alectra Utilities last December 10.

Each delegate outlined why this was not in the best interests of the community and many requested a deferment until all the facts were known, including the final documents pertaining to the agreement.

Council, by a 10-3 majority ignored those citizen delegates. Instead they agreed with the points raised by seven especially selected Alectra delegates who offered slanted reasons to merge or approve it as it appeared unconditionally.

The structure of Guthrie’s Wall of denial

We looked up how the wall was erected initially by the former administration, starting in 2008 when council appointed Amberlea Gravel, located in London, to investigate citizen’s complaints about closed-session meetings of council. The appointment was made when former Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government ordered all municipalities to appoint a closed-session investigator.

Since 2008, Amberlea Gravel, our Local Authority Services (LAS), has processed just three complaints, while being paid a retainer for nine years. The city has not revealed the cost of the retainer. Regardless, it has to be the best deal Amberlea Gravel made to bolster the privacy of council doing the public business.

Each complaint was denied or rejected.

A few years ago, the Ontario Ombudsman was given authority to act for municipalities in terms of special closed-session investigations. Today, more than half of Ontario’s 445 municipalotoes, have switched to the Ombudsman’s office to investigate closed-session council and local board meetings.

But not Guelph.

I was one of only three complainants requesting a closed-session investigation in early January 2016. I had plenty of reasons for obtaining the minutes of the December 10, 2015 closed council meeting that awarded $98,202 salary increases to the four senior managers of the city.

By now most people in the city know the decision was not revealed until publication of the 2015 Sunshine list which publoshed the salaries and taxable benefits of every city employee earning $100,000 or more.

Guelph Speaks published several posts that decried this blackout decision by city council. For my trouble, I was at first threatened by one of the recipients of our largess and subsequently sued for defamation. That case is before the courts and I cannot comment further.

Four months following my request for the December 10, 2015 minutes, the special closed-session investigator ruled in favour of the city to deny the minutes of that meeting.

That is just one brick in the Guthrie Great Wall to control the public’s business and rightful interest to suit the staff and council. It’s known as shaping the message to satisfy the administration’s interests.

The council code of conduct is the second barrier to open government

Here is an excerpt published on the city website under the title: “Council Code of Conduct/Integrity Commissioner:

The Code of Conduct was adopted by Council to:

  • Establish a common basis for the ethical behaviour of Members of Council and Local Boards.
  • Increase public confidence by making a commitment to operate with integrity, justice and courtesy.
  • Note the words transparency, accountability and operating an open government are not inclded in the C of C.

I can’t make this stuff up.

In 2011, Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner to address the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards. The Integrity Commissioner has the power to deal with requests to investigate suspected contraventions of the Code of Conduct. The record shows that all requests referred to the Integrity Commissioner origubated with members of council. Council recommended the following penalties:

  • A reprimand; or
  • Suspension of the remuneration of the Council or Local Board member for a period of up to 90 days.
  • In addition to conducting formal Code of Conduct investigations, the Integrity Commissioner also serves as an advisor on appropriate conduct to individual Members of Council or Council as a whole.

It’s the ultimate muzzle on the very people we trust to serve the public’s interests. It’s yet another brick in the Guthrie Wall of denying public participation in the business of stakeholders in the community.

So, now in his sixth year as Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swazey of Caledon, is judge, jury and prosecutor in cases involving elected officials who may be accused of breaking the Code of Conduct.

It is an implied threat to any councillor who reveals the contents of a closed-session meeting. It threatens their reputation for protecting the public interests.

In just a few words, this policy was approved by council in, we believe, another closed- session. The commissioner, since 2011 has investigated three cases. His annual retainer is $5,000 and he is paid an hourly fee conducting his investigation and preparing his report.

The one case involved then Coun. Cam Guthrie, who received none of the punishment listed above. It cost the citizens $10,000. The irony of this event is suffocating in tracking the performance of the Mayor and his council.

Part two of this post follows March 24: Mayor Guthrie;s Great Wall that is locking us up.

 

 

 

 

 

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5 Comments

Filed under Between the Lines

5 responses to “Guthrie’s Great Wall blocks public participation using closed-sessions meetings

  1. Colleen

    I had no idea that one could file complaints around closed door council meetings. That is good info to have. Do you find it curious that the City is suddenly wanting open and transparent communicatio with residents regarding transit?

    • Colleen: Reading the Mayor’s release about receiving $100 million from the Federal and Provincial governments to be used, his words, for transit and to thank the bus drivers, is pure misrepresentation. GS will be commenting on this next week.

  2. Glen

    If memory serves me right, didn’t the previous Farbridge regime spend over $100 k to have some Toronto consulting firm draft some baffle gab on transparency? What, if anything, became of that exercise?

    • Glen: You are right about the Toronto consultant preparing an open government procedure report to include transparency and accountability. My memory is that it cost $500K, a figure that was never disputed. Seems like the administration’s Ostrich head is still buried in the sand.

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