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Investigation clears City Council of wrongdoing in closed door meetings

Complaint filed regarding three meetings on proposed Brant Community Hub held in-camera
brant hub overhead ts
Concept site plans for the proposed Brant Avenue neighbourhood community hub. The hub is located on the left, Brant Avenue Public School on the right.

An independent investigation has ruled that Guelph City Council did not knowingly do anything wrong when it held three discussions on the proposed Brant Community Hub behind closed doors.

The report, heading to the July 24 meeting of Guelph City Council, did indicate that one of the three meetings could and perhaps should have been held in public, but that council made an honest mistake in holding it behind closed doors.

An independent report heading to the July 24 meeting of Guelph City Council said the investigators “appreciate” that council may have automatically assumed a discussion of land purchase for the hub be discussed behind closed doors.

“In this case, we believe the matter could and should have been discussed in open session on November 28, 2016 pursuant to a commitment to transparency,” the report reads.

The investigation was done by London-based consulting firm Amberley Gavel, which specializes in conducting investigations into municipal government closed meetings.

The report does not indicate who lodged the complaint.

The closed meetings investigated took place on Sept. 28, 2015, Oct. 26, 2015, and Nov. 28, 2016.

The report reminded council to “err on the side of openness and transparency when determining whether to exercise its discretion to consider a matter in closed session.”

“Staff do not decide what is to be considered in closed session,” the report says.

A 10,000-12,000 square foot hub is being considered for the property the city purchased behind Brant Avenue Public School and has received plenty of opposition from the neighbourhood.

It would serve a variety of neighbourhood uses, from community-use rooms to possibly a variety of health services and seniors’ programs.

Those behind the hub, including the Guelph Neighbourhood Support Coalition and Community Health Centre, are awaiting word on provincial funding to move ahead with detailed design and planning work needed before approaching the city with a development application.

Council meetings can be held behind closed doors under certain specified conditions, including “a proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land by the municipality or local board” and “advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege.”

The person filing the complaint felt that information discussed did not fall under the rules that permit a closed meeting.