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Bylaw change allows confidential matters to be discussed remotely

Council carries several amendments to procedural bylaw

SUNDRE — In-camera meetings of council, commonly referred to as closed meetings, can now be conducted remotely via electronic means.

All three readings of four amendments to the municipality’s council procedural bylaw were recently carried.

Presenting the background for council’s consideration during a teleconference of the regular May 4 meeting was chief administrative officer Linda Nelson.

The motion to approve the amendment is “a request to amend the town’s procedural bylaw to allow for council to attend closed sessions of council by electronic means during an emergency situation, such as a pandemic,” said Nelson.

“This would allow council and staff to safely participate in council meetings where items that are exempt from public disclosure under FOIP (Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy) are required to be discussed during a closed meeting,” she said, adding the existing bylaw previously did “not allow for this.”

The amended bylaw presented to council for consideration was the result of advice obtained during a conversation with a Municipal Affairs advisor, she said.

The Municipal Government Act, she elaborated, “requires council to keep in confidence matters discussed in private at a council meeting, until discussed at a public meeting.”

Such issues stem from what are commonly referred to as the ‘three Ls’ — land, legal and labour. Council cannot carry a motion behind closed doors, and any decisions arising from in-camera or closed meetings must be made publicly.  

The first amendment to the procedural bylaw requires council to inform the chief administrative officer in advance of a meeting to ensure adequate notification and time to prepare administrative matters prior to the meeting, she said.

The second outlines a requirement for members of council to pick up and subsequently return any printed material presented during a closed meeting, while the third amendment mandates that elected officials must confirm any such corresponding documentation has not been copied.  

Lastly, the amended bylaw also requires council to confirm they are participating in the meeting from a private setting where the proceedings cannot be overheard, she said.

“It is important to note that this clause would only be enacted in the event of an emergency situation where it may not be safe for council to attend in person.”

Coun. Rob Wolfe moved the bylaw’s first reading, which carried unopposed.

With very little discussion, council unanimously carried the remaining readings.

“Why I like this motion is it puts in place for us to protect our town, that we can continue with meetings like this,” said Coun. Paul Isaac.

“I think it’s quite important, this is such unprecedented times. I like that we have a motion that we can continue working in crazy times.”

Mayor Terry Leslie previously said that while council strives to be transparent, there are legitimate reasons for closed meetings outlined in the Municipal Government Act, which defines what can and cannot be discussed in-camera. For example confidentiality in legal matters must be respected, the mayor said.

“We adhere to that,” said Leslie.

However, unless explicitly specified in the MGA that a certain matter can be discussed in-camera, issues should be discussed in open session, he said.