Nova Scotia

Richmond County warden apologizes over lack of public committee meetings

Richmond County held an emergency meeting this week after discovering at least 2 committee meetings had not been open to the public as required.

Amanda Mombourquette says lack of public access was an oversight that is being fixed with a new policy

Richmond County Warden Amanda Mombourquette apologized to constituents this week after finding out at least 2 committee meetings were not publicly accessible. (Tom Ayers/CBC)

Councillors in Nova Scotia's Richmond County are creating a policy to ensure committee meetings — just like council meetings — are conducted in the open after holding at least two policy sessions outside the public eye.

Warden Amanda Mombourquette said some recent meetings of council's bylaw and policy committee were not advertised ahead of time, and no agendas or minutes have been posted to indicate the meetings have been held.

During an emergency meeting on Tuesday to discuss the issue, she apologized for what she called an oversight.

"We made a pretty strong commitment as a council to our constituents and the bottom line is that we discovered that we were conducting business in a way that didn't align with the Municipal Government Act, and the Municipal Government Act is not a suggestion," Mombourquette said. "It's the rules by which municipalities must operate."

Mombourquette says the majority of council wanted the issue dealt with immediately. (Submitted by the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce)

The emergency meeting was called with less than the two days notice required under the Municipal Government Act, but  Mombourquette said the majority of council wanted the issue dealt with immediately.

"At the end of the day, these things are a judgment call and the judgment that we made was to fix the problem as quickly as possible, because we felt it was an extremely serious one," she said.

On Tuesday, council unanimously voted to create a policy that clarifies its intention to advertise committee and council meetings, as well as post agendas online ahead of time and post all minutes on the municipal website afterward.

Council also directed staff to post all agendas and minutes from meetings held since November 2020.

Legislation 'vague' says CAO

Richmond chief administrative officer Don Marchand told council he spoke with the county's lawyer and was told the Municipal Government Act (MGA) does not provide specific guidance on committees.

"In his email to me, [the lawyer] didn't clarify what a committee of council was, because the MGA is not very clear on it," Marchand told council.

The legislation also does not specify that minutes of committees have to be posted publicly, he said.

Marchand said the lawyer told him if council wanted to be clear about its intent, it should make a policy.

Warden: council intent was clear

Mombourquette said the act does say committee meetings must be treated like council meetings, and that a policy would spell out the details.

"I appreciate the legal advice that was received," she told council. "My main concern is our intent.

"Our intent has been pretty clear that we want to make sure that our committee meetings are open and it would be inappropriate — and really it would be in contravention of the MGA — for council to be meeting to discuss moving council business forward by developing policies and bylaws without that being open to the public."

Mombourquette said council agreed not to release draft documents discussed at public meetings until they have been voted on by council, in order to prevent confusion about which provisions have been approved.

Both Cape Breton and Halifax regional municipalities release draft documents with agendas so the public can see what is being discussed before it is approved.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Ayers

Reporter/Editor

Tom Ayers has been a reporter and editor for 36 years. He has spent half of them covering Cape Breton and Nova Scotia stories. You can reach him at tom.ayers@cbc.ca.

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