City council spending fewer meeting hours behind closed doors

The shift follows on the heels of changes made in 2015 to increase transparency at city hall.

Shift follows changes made in 2015 to increase transparency

Saskatoon city councillors are holding fewer sessions in private, as this comparison chart shows. (City of Saskatoon)

Saskatoon city councillors are spending less time at city hall behind closed doors and out of the public eye, according to a new report.

Three years ago — in the yearlong period ending July 31, 2015 — just under 41 per cent of the hours councillors spent at city council or standing committee meetings was done "in-camera" — code for "in private."

In the year ending July 31, 2017, the share of private meetings shrank to just over 26 per cent.

Below is how the share of public/private meeting hours works out in actual hard numbers. (Forgive my blue chicken scratchings. The wavy line represents the grand total of hours for each year.)

(City of Saskatoon)

"I think it's a good thing and I commend this city council for doing that," said former councillor Pat Lorje.

But it was actually the previous city council that paved the way for the shift.

In early 2015, councillors relaxed their collective barometer for what should go in camera, a decision usually based on the following reasons or subject areas:

(City of Saskatoon)

The bulk of private sessions take place during meetings of the Governance and Priorities Committee, which is just a committee made up of all city councillors.

One-year spike due to 'strategic planning' 

The 2016-2017 period actually saw a jump in private sessions from 2015-2016 — to 68.4 hours from 47.2 hours. The city attributes that to "several strategic planning meetings during that period."

Those same kind of strategic planning sessions — specifically meetings about land sales — account for why city council held more sessions in private in the years leading up to the recent three-year period of study, says Lorje.

"You have to consider that the city was in a period of extremely rapid growth and so there were major planning decisions that had to be made all the time," she said.

But Lorje said other subjects, like who should win a city contract, were needlessly kicked out of public view.

Today, the approval of contract awards — such as those for various pre-construction phases of the planned bus-rapid-transit system — are done in full view of the public.

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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