Nanaimo rejects amendment to release in camera votes

Nanaimo city council explored what it can and cannot release from in camera discussions Monday

Nanaimo council explored what it can and cannot release from in camera discussions Monday night in an attempt to be more transparent, focusing specifically on releasing how councillors voted on in camera issues that are eventually made public.

In May, council received a staff report on legislative requirements for releasing in camera information, which typically deals with land, labour (personnel) and legal subjects. Council discusses those subjects in camera to protect private interests.

Eventually, most information council discusses behind closed doors is released, once the information no longer has any bearing on the outcome of the issue.

Coun. Bill Bestwick, through a proposed amendment, said he also wanted how councillors voted on sensitive issues to be released.

“I think it’s our fundamental duty and responsibility to make that voting record public knowledge,” said Bestwick. “I’m not certain why … the votes, once the information is made public, wouldn’t follow suit.”

Council defeated Bestwick’s amendment 6-3.

A blanket approach, said Coun. Diane Brennan, is not an appropriate way to deal with releasing in camera information.

“We have to look at each individual case and judge it on its own merit,” said Brennan. “The city manager made it quite clear there are some things that are totally inappropriate to even release the information. We only deal with personnel, legal and land in camera so what’s left? I get the impression there is some political mischief being made here.”

Brennan quoted Eli Mina, a veteran Canadian parliamentarian who consulted Nanaimo officials several months ago, on the practice of releasing votes.

“Under the principles of collective decision-making and collective accountability, only the collective outcome is significant, not how each individual voted,” he wrote in Mina’s Guide to Minute Taking.

Brennan said if that position was good enough for the privacy commissioner, it was good enough for her.

There is no legal obligation, however, for council to withhold how it votes in camera.

Coun. Jim Kipp, who voted in favour of Bestwick’s amendment along with Coun. Bill McKay, said despite his respect for Mina, sometimes rules need to change.

“It’s the public right to know what we do,” said Kipp. “We need to argue a little and show where we stand. We’ve been accused of doing more in camera than any other community in B.C. and that’s what I want to get over.”

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