Nova Scotia

Closed-door meetings in CBRM to come under more scrutiny

The municipality is changing its process after illegally discussing council pay at four in-camera meetings over the past two years.

Several changes planned to increase accountability and transparency, CAO says

CBRM council met to discuss remuneration in camera on Dec. 7, 2016, May 8, 2017, Oct. 24, 2017 and June 26, 2018. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Closed-door meetings are going to be a little more open in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality.

CBRM is changing its process after illegally discussing council pay at four in-camera meetings over the past two years.

Nova Scotia's Municipal Government Act permits councils to discuss eight topics behind closed doors, but remuneration isn't one of them.

CBRM's chief administrative officer, Marie Walsh, said several changes are being planned to increase accountability and transparency.

Agenda topics to be made public

The municipal solicitor will now have input on in-camera agendas and council will have to approve the agenda before each closed meeting.

The public will also have a better idea of what's being discussed behind closed doors, Walsh said.

"The agenda topics will now be listed on our website, and ... if it is a union arbitration, or if it's a negotiation for a sale of land or an expropriation, we'll list that without listing the details."

Walsh said there was no intent to disregard the law when council privately discussed pay.

Elected officials considered staff?

The act allows councils to discuss personnel matters behind closed doors, and Walsh said some staff believed elected officials could be treated the same as staff.

"There is no clear definition [of personnel] in the Municipal Government Act," said Walsh.

The department has since said clearly that elected officials are not personnel.

Walsh said the CBRM is looking for clearer direction from the province going forward.

"The mayor has indicated that he will be requesting through the minister that the Department of Municipal Affairs come and do a special meeting of council on the [act], on the interpretation and compliance, as well as any anticipated changes coming up in the act."

That meeting will be held in open session, she added.

About the Author

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 33 years. He has spent the last 15 years covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.