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Statement from Burlington City Manager Tim Commisso on Closed Session Meetings

City Manager Statement on Closed Meetings

*Please see below a statement issued by the Burlington City Manager.

Burlington, Ont. — April 27, 2022 — At the April 19 Burlington City Council meeting, Council discussed a detailed report with a recommendation from the City’s Integrity Commissioner. The City’s independent Integrity Commissioner provides a wide variety of services including providing advice and education on the application of the City’s Code of Good Governance and on City policies, procedures, protocols and rules relating to the ethical conduct of Members of Council.Every Ontario municipality has been required to have a formal Council code of conduct policy as well appoint an independent Integrity Commissioner since 2017.

I am sharing this statement because I want to set the record straight on closed session meetings and two related reports.

At the heart of the Integrity Commissioner report was the perception or a belief that City staff in some cases were inappropriately using closed door sessions to block or obscure information from members of the public. As City Manager, I can categorically state that this assertion is not accurate.

Working in collaboration with Council and staff, I am committed to sharing as much information as we can with the public. I also support a robust governance and accountability framework which embraces openness and transparency.

In March of this year, I brought forward a report (CM-08-22) to the Corporate Services, Strategy, Risk and Accountability (CSSRA) Committee with the sole intent to further strengthen our governance framework; that report was unanimously approved by Council. Among the recommendations of the report is the need to update the City’s Code of Good Governance and as well as the Council/Staff Relations Policy in conjunction with Council’s approval of a new five-year contract term for the Integrity Commissioner effective Aug. 1, 2022.

In terms of reports, in 2021 alone, out of the more than 330 staff reports considered by Council, a total of 57 confidential reports were dealt with during 29 closed session meetings. Under the Municipal Act, Council may go into closed session for items such as legal strategy, human resource matters or real estate transactions. In my many years of reporting directly to Council, that number level of closed session reports/meetings is by no means unusual or excessive for a municipality, especially one the size of Burlington that is dealing with a significant amount of community growth and development.

A number of previously considered major applications have also been appealed to the Ontario Lands Tribunal. In addition to the development applications, the City has been involved in major land purchase discussions, including the recent purchase of Lions Club Park and the City’s public interest in acquiring the Robert Bateman High School site.

The above matters represent the majority of the closed session reports provided to Council in 2021 and in every case, a prior vote was taken by Council members to proceed into closed session. In so doing, City staff including those in the City’s Legal Services and the Office of the City Clerk departments, have at all times acted properly and applied all required due diligence when bringing closed session matters before Council.

When concerns were raised with the number and substance of reports considered in closed door meetings, the City’s independent Closed Meeting Investigator was recently asked to look into these concerns; this led to a second report.

This past Friday, the Closed Meeting Investigator’s report was made public. The report will be discussed in open session at the May 4 CSSRA Committee meeting. The Investigator examined a number of recent closed door meetings under question and found that in all the cases, Council and City Staff acted properly. No rules were broken, and nothing was hidden or obscured from the public. What the Investigator did note in their concluding remarks, was an opportunity to improve our closed session reporting out practices, which will be addressed in a follow up report to CSSRA in June.

As City Manager, I, along with members of City Council and City staff, are committed to continuous improvement at the City of Burlington which means we are always prepared to explore ways to further strengthen our openness and transparency whenever possible; which speaks to the important relationship with Council and staff. Overall, I am very pleased with the collaborative working relationship that exists between Council and staff. My view is this current Council has collectively made significant and measurable progress in advancing the interests of the community and has done so while doing everything possible to keep the community and staff safe during the COVID-19 global pandemic.

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A Better Burlington began in 2006 after my neighbours said they felt left out of city decisions, learning about them only after they’d been made. As journalist for 22 years, I thought “I can do something about that” and a website and newsletter were born. They’ve taken various forms and names over the years, but the intent remains: To let you know what’s happening at City Hall before decisions are made, so you can influence outcomes for A Better Burlington. The best decisions are made when elected representatives tap the wisdom of our community members, and welcome many different perspectives.This site allows residents to comment and debate with each other; our Commenting Guidelines established in 2016 aim to keep debate respectful. Got an idea or comment you want to share privately? Please, get in touch:

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