Only 45 minutes of 2 hour governmental affairs committee held in public
On Oct. 4, 2012, we – two young reporters – attended our first committee meeting at city hall. We had, as one could only expect, certain expectations going into the meeting.
For one, we assumed that the meeting would be held in council chambers.
We also assumed that we would come away from the meeting with an eye-opening story.
Both of our assumptions were wrong.
The Intergovernmental Affairs Committee is composed of six aldermen, and chaired by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The committee is a valuable connection between the city of Calgary and the provincial and federal governments.
It is the responsibility of this committee to ensure that the policies of the provincial or federal government benefit Calgarians.
Before the meeting, we looked over the agenda. It outlined the following three issues that the Intergovernmental Affairs Committee planned to address:
• The proposal to establish an intermunicipal committee for the city of Calgary and the town of Chestermere.
• The proposed recommendations for Calgary’s submission for the federal government’s 2013 – 2014 budget.
• The amendment to the policy outlining cell phone towers on municipal property.
Although we really had no concrete idea what any of this meant, we optimistically went into the meeting at 9:30 a.m. As neither of us are morning people, we tried to ignore that we are rarely up and functioning at that time in the morning.
We really should not have been worried.
The meeting was held in a small boardroom with a dozen or so seats around the perimeter of the room for the public. Very little seemed to happen during the first few minutes. The committee got comfortable, chatting amongst themselves.
They confirmed the minutes of the committee’s last meeting, and just as we were beginning to become comfortable with our surroundings, the committee announced they were going in camera to discuss the verbal report IGA 2012-0613 from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and we would have to leave.
We had been in the meeting for only 15 minutes.
When a committee motions to go in camera, it means they are closing the meeting to certain sectors of the public.
During this time, they will often discuss issues that have been deemed confidential under Division 2 of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
While we had been interested in a couple of the topics on the agenda, they all seemed to pertain to issues that could only be discussed in the privacy of a closed boardroom.
We were particularly interested in the proposal to establish an alliance between Calgary and Chestermere.
During our longest stint in the meeting, Susan Chow, from Land Use Planning, discussed the need for such a committee. She then requested that the committee go in camera and we once again had to leave.
The two of us spent an hour that day sitting in the lobby of the boardroom, and only about 45 minutes of the two-hour meeting within the boardroom itself.
We assure you municipal government meetings are even more tedious when you’re waiting to get back into them.
In front of the “audience” the committee members are jovial, laughing and joking with each other.
Nenshi even took a few jabs at Premier Alison Redford, mentioning how he wanted to respond to a tweet from a Calgarian asking, “Do you have any suggestions for other orders of government on how to manage their travel budgets?”
He chuckled and said he had resisted the urge to reply, “I was in Edmonton last week. I stayed at the Holiday Inn Express where they have free breakfast and free Wi-Fi.”
He then went on to say, “As you know, I was in London. I wasn’t staying in a very nice place, they could’ve just called and said we’ve got an empty room if you want it. That’s provincial government funding I would have taken.”
“Also the provincial government needs to learn to use Kijiji or Craigslist,” he concluded, before finally carrying the motion to set the recommendation to prepare the city’s submission for consideration in the federal government’s 2013-2014 budget.
That was the second of only three motions carried in front of us.
The first was to approve the City of Calgary/Town of Chestermere Intermunicipal committee, which happened so quickly it nearly blew by us.
The last motion was to defer consideration to amendments of Policy #CS012 – Telecommunication Antenna Structures on Municipal Property – until after meeting with the Calgary Board of Education.
The three motions happened directly one after the other, after which the committee went right back in camera until the end of the meeting.
Anything that would have been interesting about the budget, the intermunicipal committee, or cell phone towers was discussed behind closed doors.
There was seemingly nothing of importance discussed in front of us, the voting public.