I think I owe my readers an apology. I was wrong when I said our process and procedure driven Mayor, Tony Van Bynen, had re-jigged the agenda to prevent the public from questioning Bob Forrest.
In fact, the public has no right to question anyone about anything at a Statutory Public Meeting.
For a fleeting moment I thought I might have an opportunity to quiz Bob at the close of his presentation when he specifically invited questions.
But when Van Bynen told Forrest
“We’ll ask you to come back if there are any questions later on.”
he was referring to questions from his Council colleagues not from the great unwashed.
In fact, there were no questions to Forrest from our incurious Mayor or councillors. And those who did have questions – ie the public - were never going to get an opportunity to put them.
As our excellent Town Clerk, Andrew Brouwer, told me on 28 April 2016:
“The purpose of the public hearing meeting is to provide comments on the application to Council, not to enter into dialogue with staff or the applicant.”
It seems to me the Statutory Public Meeting was chaired in a very casual manner by Van Bynen who never asked his colleagues if they had any questions of clarification for any of the people making a deputation. This was a serious oversight for someone who lives and breathes process and procedure.
Am I splitting hairs?
The Land Swap
At the Statutory Public Meeting on the Clock Tower on Monday 9 May 2016 Bob Forrest’s much anticipated slide show makes no mention of the land swap which, to all intents and purposes, might be happening in a parallel universe.
We do not know what Bob Forrest proposed and the justifications he advanced. That is why I have lodged yet another Freedom of Information request to see the correspondence and details of the land exchange at the Clock Tower requested by Forrest (and/or his alter ego Main Street Clock Inc) in the period up to 24 June 2013 when a Special Committee of the Whole in closed session agreed in principle to land transactions involving Town-owned land.
The Town is steadfastly refusing to give any details. My Freedom of Information request last week for sight of all the papers relating to that 24 June 2013 meeting was turned down because
“the (Clock Tower) development application and related land negotiations have not been finalized, the closed session records are still confidential at this time.”
Yet the Town Solicitor, Esther Armchuk, told me on 23 February 2016:
“If or when the developer’s development application comes before Council, the details of the requested land exchange will likely become public information.”
The development application is now before the Council. And it seems to me there is no good reason why the terms of Forrest’s approach to the Town cannot be made public.
My Freedom of Information request for sight of the agenda, minutes and any supporting papers regarding the proposed land swap was turned down on 4 May 2016 (citing the provisions of Section 6(1)(b) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and Section 239(2)(c) of the Municipal Act.)
The powers given to municipalities are permissive (may) not mandatory (shall). Councils can make information available, in whole or in part, if they so choose. But in Van Bynen’s closed world secrecy always trumps transparency.
Municipal Act 2001
6. (1) A head may refuse to disclose a record,
(a) that contains a draft of a by-law or a draft of a private bill; or
(b) that reveals the substance of deliberations of a meeting of a council, board, commission or other body or a committee of one of them if a statute authorizes holding that meeting in the absence of the public.
Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act
S239 (2) A meeting or part of a meeting may be closed to the public if the subject matter being considered is,
(a) the security of the property of the municipality or local board;
(b) personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees;
(c) a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board;