Sending a message

“For democracy to flourish, citizens need free and open access to information.” (Nancy Kranich, former president of the American Library Association)
Behind closed doors Monday night, council received information from the town’s solicitor on the interpretation of the procedural bylaw of the Town of Fort Frances.
From that information, council then determined the motion concerning the Town of Fort Frances’ representation on Rainycrest’s board of management was out of order.
As well, Mayor Dan Onichuk withdrew his list of appointments to executive committees—at least pending input from town councillors.
Council invoked Section 239 (2)(f) of the Ontario Municipal Act that provides the exception for holding an open meeting: “advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege, including communications necessary for that purpose.”
We believe, however, that the real client in this case were the citizens and taxpayers of the Town of Fort Frances—and not just the seven members of council.
We believe that denying this information to the public was not in Fort Frances’ best interests.
A point of law and parliamentary procedure was debated at the previous council meeting on Dec. 13, and the request for parliamentary guidance and advice on the procedural bylaw was requested by the mayor.
That request was made in front of the public, but the information was not delivered to the public.
In the end, members of council did receive the advice and acted on the recommendations of their solicitor. And civility and decorum was restored to the council chamber.
But what has been denied is a public understanding of the reasoning of why the motion was ruled to be out of order. Citizens of Fort Frances also were denied the learning opportunity to understand the limitations and expectations of the procedural bylaw of the community.
Former U.S. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt said most eloquently, “Our children should learn the general framework of their government and then they should know where they come in contact with the government, where it touches their daily lives and where their influence is exerted on the government.
“It must not be a distant thing, someone else’s business, but they must see how every cog in the wheel of a democracy is important and bears its share of responsibility for the smooth running of the entire machine.”
That’s a message town council must take to heart.