CBRM committee closes its doors to public, media

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Tues., May 18, 2005

SYDNEY - It was advertised as a public meeting of a Cape Breton Regional Municipality committee, but neither the public nor the Cape Breton Post were permitted to attend.

The CBRM's remediation of the Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites committee met with senior officials of the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency, Tuesday in Sydney.

The meeting was listed on the CBRM's notice of upcoming meetings which was sent to the Post and advertised on the municipality's website as a public committee meeting.

Shortly after the meeting began, the Cape Breton Post was asked to leave so members could discuss if media could attend the session. After several minutes, Coun. Vince Hall and agency spokesperson Parker Donham informed the Post it couldn't attend.

Hall said the "quasi" group was not an official committee of council and said he accepted responsibility for listing it on the municipal website. "It was a mistake."

Mayor John Morgan, who didn't attend Tuesday's meeting, said he's looking into the matter. "Some councillors feel they have the general right to have closed-door meetings," said Morgan. The mayor said legislation clearly outlines when closed-door meetings are permitted.

Municipal act provides specific list of reasons for closed-door meeting

The Municipal Government Act allows closed-door meetings of council or committees to discuss personnel matters, labour relations, contract negotiations, litigation, public security, legal advice eligible for solicitor-client privilege, acquisition or sale of municipal property and setting minimum prices to be accepted by a municipality at a tax sale.

Morgan said he doesn't agree with the liaison committee which is a sounding board for government during the tar ponds cleanup meeting behind closed doors and he said it appears that public exclusion is spreading to municipal government. "That's something I wouldn't agree with," said Morgan.

Municipal clerk Bernie White said the session was a Sydney Tar Ponds Agency event and the remediation of Sydney tar ponds and coke ovens sites committee is not a standing committee of council. "From my perspective, it's not a committee," said White.

The committee is comprised of five councillors chairman Vince Hall, Frankie Morrison, Jim MacLeod, Tom Wilson and Charlie Long. The posted agenda for the meeting included an update from the agency, a coffer dam report and future site use report.

Dan McMullin, chair of the Sierra Club of Canada Cape Breton chapter, was also denied access to the meeting. As well, he was told that he couldn't attend any future meetings. "It's an example of their unwillingness to provide accountability," said McMullin. "How can you develop trust when you close doors? McMullin said it's a good example of why a panel review independent of government is needed to provide transparency when the tar ponds cleanup plans are assessed. "I'm quite angry," he said. "This is clearly a committee of council. Why would this one be any different than the rest."

The Sierra Club of Canada is also excluded from being a member of a community liaison committee acting as a sounding board for government during the cleanup. The liaison committee meets once a month behind closed doors.