By Kevin Werner
Hamilton Mountain NDP MPP Monique Taylor said it was wrong for Mayor Bob Bratina to hold an important meeting with the transportation minister without inviting other elected representatives to hear the discussion.
A July 25 get together at city hall between newly installed Transportation Minister Steven Del Duca the mayor, a number of councillors and a few city staff, left Taylor and Stoney Creek NDP MPP Paul Miller cooling their heels, prompted Taylor to file a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman’s office arguing it violated the Municipal Act for open meetings.
“If they are saying it was an introductory meeting and hearing council’s position (on transit) then why would they not allow the other elected officials in the city to be invited?” said Taylor. “This government is talking about transparency and openness and this minister shouldn’t allow (the meeting) to happen.”
Ashley Bursey, assistant manager for communications of the Ombudsman’s office confirmed a complaint from Taylor had been received.
“We are currently assessing it to determine if further steps will be taken,” said Bursey.
It’s too early to determine a timeline when the complaint will be resolved, she added.
Under the Municipal Act, meetings can be closed to the public due to litigation, disposal of property, negotiations and personnel issues. The Ombudsman, Andre Marin, has already cited the City of Hamilton for holding improper closed meetings in 2011, with one in camera meeting involving the former Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facility Inc.
Taylor said since city councillors and the mayor were discussing infrastructure dollars, MPPs should have been at the meeting as well.
“The people have the right to known” she said.
Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla turned down an invitation to attend the meeting, saying it could be illegal.
“At the end of the day it would have been irresponsible at best, and moronic at worst to potentially subject myself to an investigation,” said Merulla. “The meeting should be a public meeting. Public officials should conduct public issues in a public setting.”
Other councillors who participated in the discussion remained conflicted.
Mountain councillor Scott Duvall consulted with the city clerk’s office to make sure no municipal laws were being violated before attending the event. Under the Municipal Act if a quorum of councillors is present in a room that constitutes a meeting. He was assured the meeting wouldn’t violate any laws.
“It was more of a meet and greet meeting,” said Duvall.
Bratina dismissed the idea he was holding a secret meeting, arguing he has had about 35 similar discussions with provincial officials during his term, including with Kathleen Wynne, a former Liberal transportation minister.
Del Duca said, in response to a question about attending closed meetings: “I would not be doing my job as transportation minister if I didn’t take the opportunity to talk directly with mayors and councillors.”
Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark, a former transportation minister in the Mike Harris government, said he never held public meetings with mayors or councils during his tenure.
“I don’t understand what all the hoopla is about,” said Clark, who participated in the discussion. “The Municipal Act gives the mayor the authority to hold these meetings. The minister has that right as minister of the crown to participate. I honestly don’t understand why some people are concerned that it’s not public.”