Public access to plenary discussions?
THE EQUITY survey finds roughly even three-way split among MRC Pontiac mayors
Pontiac Nov. 14, 2023
A survey of MRC Pontiac mayors conducted by THE EQUITY over the past two weeks has found a roughly even three-way split among the 18 mayors on the question of whether to open their private discussions to the public.
Every month, the mayors of MRC Pontiac have a private “plenary” meeting to discuss issues of public policy. They vote on the resulting motions in the monthly public meeting held the following week.
Since the public is not allowed to attend the plenary meetings, and since the issues on which mayors are voting are typically not debated at the public meeting, it is difficult for the public to gain much insight into the issues at play on any given topic. For some, this represents a reduction in transparency in the deliberations of our elected representatives, and therefore of their accountability to the public.
This newspaper has been among the voices encouraging mayors to consider opening their meetings more fully to the public, with the understanding that they would retain the option of moving a public meeting into an in-camera discussion whenever the subject at hand required it, with issues of a personal, proprietary or security nature as examples.
While it appears that mayors have discussed this matter upon several occasions, they have done so privately in their plenary sessions, with the result that the pubic does not know where any of them stands on the question of whether the public should have greater access to their discussions.
In the hopes of shedding light on their views on this question, over the past two weeks THE EQUITY has conducted an informal survey of the mayors of MRC Pontiac.
It was launched by email in which a question was posed, anticipating it would yield either YES or NO responses. In the end, the question required more discussion than a simple YES or NO and led to a series of very interesting telephone conversations with almost all of the mayors. A summary of the responses follows, but first the question:
If the mayors were asked who believes the public should be allowed to attend the plenaries, would your hand go up?
The email explained that it would be assumed that if the public were allowed to attend the plenaries, the mayors would still be able to shift sections of the meeting in-camera for discussion of issues requiring the protection of privacy, proprietary information and information on security issues, among others.
With this understanding, five mayors – Bill McCleary (Shawville), Odette Godin (Waltham), Colleen Lariviere (Litchfield), Carl Mayer (Alleyn and Cawood) and Corey Spence (Allumettes Island) – answered the question with an unequivocal YES, providing they would retain the option of moving discussions in-camera when warranted.
Five mayors – Doris Ranger (Sheenboro), Karen Daly-Kelly (Thorne), Christine Francoeur (Fort Coulonge), Sandra Armstrong (Mansfield and Pontefract) and Lynn Judd-Cameron (Portage du Fort) – responded with a fairly clear NO, citing a variety of concerns ranging from the need for mayors to feel free to discuss matters frankly and openly to the inconvenience to mayors and the public of shifting meetings back and forth between public and private. At the same time, several in the NO camp said there were probably some things such as presentations being made to the mayors that could be opened to the public.
Between the YES’s and the NO’s were six mayors – Donald Gagnon (Chichester), Ed Walsh (Clarendon), Jean-Louis Corriveau (Calumet Island), Brent Orr (Bristol), Raymond Pilon (Campbell’s Bay) and Alain Gagnon (Bryson) – who were drawn by both sides of the argument and were undecided, would have to see exactly how it would be set up, and placed significant importance on being able to retain the ability to move discussion in-camera when warranted.
Terry Lafleur (Otter Lake), while not especially supportive of opening plenaries to the public, would support there being a discussion leading to a plan that would clarify exactly what was being voted on.
Lucie Rivet Paquette, the newly-elected mayor of Rapides des Joachims, reasonably withholds her views until she has had a chance to attend a meeting of mayors and can develop a more informed opinion on the matter.
With a fairly even split between those for and those against opening the plenary to the public, and a sizeable undecided vote, any effort by mayors to resolve the matter has the potential to go either way.
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