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Councillors in favour of open house on strategy

Dec 18 2011

Victoria's new council could be charting its next course in a public session.

Three years ago, councillors met behind closed doors with senior staff for two days to hammer out seven strategic priorities: homelessness; affordable housing; governance; enhanced communications; harm reduction; infrastructure and downtown late-night nuisances.

But new councillors and returning ones contacted say they see little reason why the next round of strategy sessions, planned for early next year, cannot be held in the open.

"It's something I'm going to explore with council," said Mayor Dean Fortin. Meeting in-camera has advantages, he said.

"It's an opportunity for council to speak freely. It's kind of, do you want political correctness or do you want people's real opinions?" Fortin said.

However, his preference would be to have it open. "I think that we can manage it in an open format but we'll see what council's comfort level is," Fortin said.

Newcomer Coun. Lisa Helps said the sessions should be held in public.

"We're setting priorities for the city, for the citizens," she said. Helps had no idea the previous session was held in-camera. "We're not elected to be politically correct. We're elected to be honest," she said.

New councillors Ben Isitt and Shellie Gudgeon agreed that consideration had to be given to open sessions. "My personal instinct is to open up city hall to the greatest extent possible," Isitt said. "I certainly think closed meetings need to be the exception rather than the norm."

"I think it should be transparent," said Gudgeon.

Veteran Coun. Chris Coleman said he has already raised the issue with the mayor, but he'd like to see more openness.

"There are some areas where there may be some sensitivity, over land transactions, perhaps, or labour impacts, and I understand that. So we may choose to go in-camera at some session. But I'm quite happy to have those strategic planning sessions much more open than we did in the past."

Coun. Pam Madoff agreed. "I think it's useful to have that kind of thing done in an open session. We don't get that much interest from the public, but at least there's an opportunity for it to be reported upon," she said.

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