What happens at “secret” meetings?

I used to sit for long hours in the SCRD boardroom reporting for a local newspaper. Often we’d reach a point in the meeting where a motion was read: “that the public be excluded from attendance at the meeting in accordance with Section 90 [something-or-other] of the Community Charter” and all of us public persons would be politely escorted to the door.

Let’s face it, it’s impossible to be shooed out of a secret meeting without feeling rabidly curious about what’s happening just out of earshot.

Now that I have taken an oath to use my mighty powers only for good, I can’t tell you the details of what happens behind closed doors, but I can shed a little bit of light on the general goings on.

So first, why so many “in camera” (aka “closed”) meetings?

Maxwell Smart under the cone of silence. The SCRD doesn’t have a cone of silence, more’s the pity.

Every in camera meeting breeds at least one more in camera meeting. We meet the first time to discuss a confidential matter and minutes are taken. Then a couple weeks later we meet again to receive and approve those minutes. Also, items that have been discussed in camera are regularly reviewed to see if they can be released to the public, and if so, we must pass a motion (in camera).

So what’s considered confidential?

First, it must meet the requirements of legislation and withstand the scrutiny of our gatekeeper, the corporate officer. She energetically defends public transparency and also keeps us on topic. We can’t hold a meeting to discuss contract negotiations and then veer off and start talking about why we’re annoyed at MOTI (tempting as that may be!).

Here are some typical confidential topics:

  • Regular updates on legal and insurance matters, e.g. a transit bus had a fender bender or somebody slipped and fell on a wet pool deck and has filed a claim
  • Appointments to advisory committees – we receive applications and discuss them, then release only the names of those who are appointed
  • Rural grant in aid – Annual deliberations over which applicants should receive money and how much
  • Contentious bylaw enforcement files (only when serious enough to be elevated to the board—the vast majority are dealt with by staff and we never see them)
  • Legal negotiations or matters involving serious potential liability
  • Sensitive items where a party has requested the matter to be held in camera *
  • Hiring of a CAO
  • Negotiation of the collective agreement with the union
  • Management Salaries

So far it’s been kind of anticlimactic. I haven’t been party to any character assassinations (or any other assassinations). No secret handshakes or tattoos. No hornswoggling or pacts signed in blood. Nobody has passed around grog. And we’ve had very few appearances by legal counsel.

Here’s hoping you’re not disappointed!


* This is a sticky one. For instance, BC Ferries once asked us to discuss a proposed new reservation policy in camera, and we decided to trust their judgement. Not happening again. Just not.


Posted by Donna