Following reports in the media suggesting that Charlottetown City Council may have held discussions in closed session that were not permitted by the Municipal Government Act (MGA), OmbudsPEI began an assessment to determine what happened. We learned that a topic had been discussed in a closed council meeting that was unrelated to the topic announced for discussion. Further, there did not appear to be any provision in the MGA that would have permitted council to discuss the matter in private.
Charlottetown’s then acting Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) was quick to acknowledge the City’s mistake and provide context for how the meeting occurred. Records suggested that some participants may have been confused about whether the meeting was closed to the public when the discussion took place. Regardless, the CAO confirmed that despite this apparent confusion, the meeting was in fact in closed session in contravention of the MGA.
Not long after we began our assessment, a new CAO was appointed for the city. She quickly assessed the issue and advised that she would recommend that council acknowledge its mistake publicly and take steps to prevent similar errors from occurring in the future. She also committed to disclosing as much information as possible about the meeting in question through a public report to council.
The recommendations set out processes and expectations for determining what matters can be discussed in closed session and to guide how closed sessions will be administered moving forward to ensure compliance with the MGA. The following week, council voted to accept the recommendations. The report was made public including information about the issue discussed in the closed meeting. These steps resolved the concerns we raised regarding the City of Charlottetown’s adherence to the MGA.
Acknowledging that the MGA was still relatively new legislation in PEI and that municipal councils across the island might benefit from a resource to help navigate the legislative requirements of closed meetings, OmbudsPEI has developed Best Practices: A Guide to Closed Council and Committee Meetings. We hope that this guide, together with the experience of Charlottetown city council, will assist municipalities across PEI with ensuring openness and transparency in all future meetings.