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Paradise moves closer to limiting private sessions behind closed doors

While some municipalities have slipped into the practice of using committee of the whole meetings to discuss town business behind closed doors, and using public meetings to ratify decisions already made, that practice will soon come to an end in Paradise.

During Tuesday’s regular meeting of council, Councillor Paul Dinn brought forward a motion which took the first step in the public approval process to see committee of the whole meetings become open to the public.

“As council is aware, we are working towards making committee of the whole public,” said Dinn. “Before we move forward with that, we need to make sure that the rules and regulations and procedures that we just talked about are clearly defined by council.”

The process to make the meetings public has been ongoing since the release of two reports by the province’s Information and Privacy Commissioner this past March. Following the reports, Dinn, the chairperson of council’s communications committee, was charged with exploring ways the Town could address a perceived lack of public transparency. The reports highlighted instances of destroyed election records and missing Double Ice Complex surveillance videos. During a February public meeting, Dinn suggested it may be in council’s best interest to make committee of the whole meetings public, noting Paradise residents may be keen to see more discussion from their elected councillors. Now, the process to see that suggestion become a reality appears to be advancing.

On Tuesday, Dinn made a motion for council to adopt the Robert’s Rules of Order, a guide which outlines proper procedure for conducting meetings and making group decisions. The motion passed unanimously.

“The Robert’s rules of Order are a generic set of rules that govern pretty much any organization,” said Dinn after the meeting. “It’s an accepted standard for how you would operate and run a meeting.”

Din explained Paradise is looking to St. John’s, which holds public committee of the whole meetings, as a guide. He said that while the process is moving forward, it is taking longer than he had hoped. However, Dinn said he anticipates the meetings will be made public in about a month’s time, noting, of course, that timeline is not concrete.

“At the end of the day we’ve gone this far without it,” said Dinn. “But a lot of the good discussion happens in (the) committee of the whole.”

While the minutes of those meetings are made available for public viewing, Dinn expressed his hope that public access to the meetings will address the perceived lack of transparency within the Town, informing residents on the discussion that led to the decisions made by their elected councillors.

“It gives the public a bit better understanding of what’s involved,” said Dinn. “It has nothing to do with thinking we’re doing anything underhanded. It’s all about being more open and accountable, and that individuals can see exactly what’s happening and what kind of discussion is occurring.”

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