Private meetings that disallow landowners from attending have caused a stir within the Union Bay Improvement District.
UBID trustee Susanna Kaljur is calling out four of her counterparts for holding “executive meetings” to discuss Union Bay-related business. Members of the public are not allowed to attend them.
Such a meeting was held at the UBID offices on April 9 for the five board members and chief administrative officer to discuss the 2017 financial audit.
The meeting was not listed on UBID’s website beforehand and there is no reference to executive meetings in the improvement district’s bylaws. It is unclear how many executive meetings have taken place.
A handful of Union Bay residents showed up to the meeting on Monday but were barred from entry at the door. One of the residents filmed the encounter and sent the footage to The Record.
In the video, UBID board chair Peter Jacques can be seen at the door, telling the residents the meeting is private and they need to leave.
“It’s an executive meeting and what we discuss here will be brought forward,” he tells the residents.
Once the door was closed, Kaljur recorded a 10-minute argument that ensued among the board members before the meeting began.
She later emailed the audio file to The Record, stating she is filing a formal complaint against Jacques, CAO Gord Mason, and trustees Glenn Loxam and Rick Bitten, over the issue.
In the audio file, Kaljur argues with the rest of the board over the legality of holding executive meetings. She brings up how in-camera sessions — meetings in which the public cannot attend — should only be held to discuss three topics.
“This is an illegal meeting. This is unbelievable,” said Kaljur on the recording. “The meetings can only be closed to the public, as you know, for very specific reasons — legal issues, land acquisitions, and personnel issues.”
Jacques replied that the executive meetings are a more efficient way for the improvement district to conduct business without heckling from the gallery.
“We can’t get anything done at a public meeting,” he said. “The reason why we’re having executive meetings is that we don’t have to go in-camera necessarily for the information that is discussed at an executive meeting, although we may be able to do so.”
On the audio file, Mason says to Kaljur that he had spoken with Simon Rasmussen, a program analyst with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and was told the meetings are legitimate.
“They didn’t say we couldn’t have the meeting,” he told Kaljur on the recording. “They said we can close the meeting to discuss these things because what’s going on in our area.
“We can’t have a meeting to discuss things without… people screaming at each other.”
Melanie Kilpatrick, a public affairs officer with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, said “executive meeting” is not a legislated term.
“If improvement district trustees wish to hold briefings on technical matters, work on relations among board members, or brainstorm ideas about future priorities, then those items could be discussed in the absence of the public (as they are not on a decision-path),” she wrote in a statement. “Improvement districts use tools such as procedure bylaws, rules of procedure guides, agendas, and clear processes to assist in managing meetings.
Kilpatrick continued, saying it is expected that improvement district trustees and members of the public will “conduct themselves in a respectful way when dealing with improvement district matters,” and that professional consulting advice is available if an improvement district is facing challenges in this regard.
“The Ministry continues to be available to support the improvement district as it works through its challenges,” she said.
“Union Bay has faced a number of governance challenges over the past year. Despite these challenges, the board has made progress in working together on the issues affecting their community.”
On Wednesday, Jacques responded to an earlier request for comment with a statement, saying the closure to the public is due to the “embryonic state” of the topic of discussion.
“The topic of discussion is in an embryonic state and not to the point to release to the public,” he wrote, adding that motions can be brought forward and voted on during executive meetings and that minutes are kept and brought forward to the following public board meeting.
Jacques’ statement went on to state that the majority of the UBID board is in favour of holding executive meetings.
“Our bylaws and closed meeting policy make reference to separate meetings and special board meetings but not always include “in-camera” sessions,” he said. “It is the board’s intention to clarify and add to the intention of this policy by [ratifying] our bylaw to reflect the term ‘Executive Meeting’.”
UBID will hold its public AGM at the Union Bay Community Hall on April 19. The meeting is open to the public and will start at 7 p.m.