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Hamilton considers electronic recording of closed meetings

By Kevin Werner
Metroland West Media Group

Hamilton’s governance subcommittee has recommended the city draft a policy that would allow the electronic recording of its in-camera meetings.

“Closed session minutes should be transparent,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark. “We need to move forward to develop a policy.”

The provincial ombudsman, Andre Marin, recently called on all Ontario municipalities to electronically record their in-camera meetings. Marin singled out Hamilton for three instances of holding private meetings involving the NHL, McMaster University and the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc. that should have been open to the public.

“Some councils are models of transparency, others are shockingly secretive and even defiant in the face of complaints,” stated Marin. “I would like to see municipalities record all meetings, including those held in camera so the records can be examined if there are allegations of violating municipal law.”

Currently, Hamilton’s policy is that any in-camera meeting is recorded directly into a computer document, and eventually placed into a “secured” folder. The minutes are printed, copied onto red paper, and distributed in sealed envelopes to councillors and the city’s senior management team. The minutes are not recorded verbatim, clerks acknowledge. So far, other municipalities, such as Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor or London haven’t started recording closed meetings. But this month, Aurora is considering adopting the electronic recording of its meetings.

One of the concerns expressed by councillors about recording closed meetings is that they would have to use microphones and that people outside the council chambers will still hear them, despite the music clerks play in the foyer to mask conversations. Councillors are also troubled that microphones could pick up discussions among politicians not directly involved in the debate.

But Clark and subcommittee chair Russ Powers said the ombudsman’s recommendation about creating an electronic record of in-camera meetings is hard to ignore. Marin is moving forward with his Sunshine law to open up municipal councils.

“It’s very simple for clerks (to record the proceedings),” said Clark, adding a digital recorder can be used. “The minutes are there to protect the public. It would be used only to ensure transparency.”

But a policy needs to be developed about who would have access to the records, where they would be stored, and when they would be destroyed. The subcommittee requested the clerk’s office to develop a policy, and procedure on using electronic equipment for closed meetings.

“It’s important we do it the right way,” said Clark.

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