Private vote for Crime Stoppers campaign was wrong, says former St. John's councillor
Council can only vote behind closed doors on human resources, legal and intergovernmental issues
The city broke its own rules when it held a private vote on a Crime Stoppers proposal, according to a former member of St. John's city council.
"Private meetings have rules around them within the legislation. Matters have to be legal, intergovernmental or human resources. In this particular case, it doesn't seem to meet any of those criteria. Therefore, it should have gone into a public meeting, for sure," said former city councillor Jonathan Galgay.
The mayor of St. John's defended the decision to send the Crime Stoppers request to a private vote.
"It's a community group that we do work with. You know our special meetings, we do have restrictions on what we discuss but in this case we wanted to support a community group that is doing great work in our community," said Danny Breen.
The vote was on a Crime Stoppers proposal to put up as many as 70 posters around the downtown area with examples of anonymous tips the group has received over the years.
The goal is to reassure people that they can report suspicious activity to Crime Stoppers without worrying their identity might be revealed. Crime Stoppers wants to put the posters up anonymously so people will see them and wonder where the poster came from. As the organization sees it, the project underscores the anonymity of tips given to the group.
But Galgay doesn't see it that way.
"This is a campaign that is pretty much advertising that there is high crime. I think that could be a major deterrent and could really give a negative impression to tourists, in particular," said Galgay.
Breen said people should take their concerns to Crime Stoppers.
"Certainly if anybody has any issues with the campaign that would be something they would have to bring up with Crime Stoppers," he said.
In council agenda notes that were posted May 17, the city said: "Due to the tight timelines the Downtown Development Commission was not consulted."
"If you are going to be doing a public marketing campaign into the downtown, that's of a public interest and therefore the public should know about it and be prepared to see it," said Galgay.
The council agenda also said: "This campaign does not align with the Heritage Area Sign By-Law."
And in those notes, city staff recommended "council grant the request of the Newfoundland and Labrador Crime Stoppers Association and allow temporary placement of the signs."
After CBC News contacted Crime Stoppers, it contacted the city and the city agreed to remove information about "Operation Anonymous" from the May 21 council agenda posted online.
Days later, city staff told CBC that council voted to approve Crime Stoppers campaign in a private meeting.
"I've dealt with many of these issues when I was a city councillor and, you know, you always try to find transparency in every decision that you make. Obviously there are some sensitivities, but in this case I don't see it," said Galgay.