“If I say I’m not satisfied with the minutes, will that show up in the minutes?”
To those unfamiliar with municipal politics in Ontario, the answer to that question might seem predetermined. But as St. Marys Town Councillor Stephen McCotter — who asked the question during a Council meeting Tuesday, June 25 — found out, a literal interpretation of the province’s Municipal Act means the obvious answer is “no.”
That doesn’t mean, of course, that the public is being prevented from finding out what happens in municipal governance. Members of the public are welcome to attend meetings of Council. And, if staff follows through on what appeared to be a consensus at the June 25 meeting, and soon begins recording the meetings for posting on the Town of St. Marys website, they’ll have that option as well.
But for now, if they’re hoping to be informed about the details of discussions after the fact through the “Council minutes” section of the website, they’ll be disappointed.
According to St. Marys CAO Kevin McLlwain, the Act dictates that the official minutes should only state that a matter was discussed. There’s neither a requirement nor an expectation that they should record the opinions offered by meeting participants.
Expressing concern that his intensive grilling of Recreation Department staff (about future plans for Cadzow Park) during a previous meeting had been condensed down to two sentences in the official minutes, McCotter explained he was unwilling to vote in favour of them. (Approval of the minutes from previous meetings is, in general, a routine matter that inspires little or usually no discussion.)
“I fail to see the point in those two sentences,” the councillor noted. “From these two sentences, as a member of the public, I would have no idea about what actually happened.”
McLlwain defended the official Council minutes, arguing, “in fact, we probably put more in the minutes than we have to.”
McCotter narrowly lost a bid to have the minutes from the recent meeting rejected. The motion for approval slipped past on a 4-3 vote count.
There was a much higher degree of consensus, however, for a motion later in the meeting calling on staff to come up with a proposal for the recording of Council meetings. Speaking most strongly in support of the motion were McCotter — for the reason mentioned above — and Lynn Hainer. Hainer stressed that effective implementation of the recording the meetings will make them much more accessible to people who, for a variety of reasons, can’t attend or hear the meetings in their Town Hall venue.