In-Camera meetings and disclosure of information

Recently, there was a series of articles regarding the City's approach to communicating information from In-Camera Council Meetings. The City is committed to releasing information from In-Camera meetings as quickly and completely as possible and to the best of our ability. The following Q&A was prepared to clarify the purpose of In-Camera meetings and the City’s approach to communicating the information from these meetings in response to the Penticton Herald’s series of five articles published October 2 to 6, 2017. Read on for answers to the following questions:

  • What are In-Camera meetings?
  • How does the City decide what is discussed In-Camera?
  • When is information from In-Camera meetings shared?
  • How is information from In-Camera meetings shared?
  • Does the City have a process to support sharing information from In-Camera meetings?
  • What is a Freedom of Information request? Why is some information blacked out in FOI reports?
  • Why didn’t the City release the information discussed in the Penticton Herald series?
  • Does the City need a policy for sharing information from In-Camera meetings?
  • The articles suggest the City isn’t committed to sharing information. Is this true?

What are In-Camera meetings?

Under the Community Charter, councils have the option of discussing items that may cause harm to individuals or the community in meetings that are closed to the public. Some of the most common items discussed In-Camera are personnel issues, litigation or potential litigation and the acquisition or disposition of land.  

How does the City decide what is discussed In-Camera?

The topics that can be discussed In-Camera are regulated by Section 90 of the Community Charter. The risk of harm to an individual or organization or to the interests of the municipality are important considerations when deciding whether or not an item is discussed In-Camera. The City is committed to reducing the frequency of In-Camera meetings and in 2017, the number dropped to 18 from 38 the previous year.

When is information from In-Camera meetings shared?

The City aims to release information from In-Camera meetings as quickly and completely as possible. Some topics are resolved in a few minutes and can easily be reported at an upcoming meeting while others may be ongoing for several meetings and may not be reported until they are completed. Some items such as discussions about personnel issues or bids received for projects before they are awarded may not be communicated. We review the topics from In-Camera meetings periodically to see which are completed and can be shared with the public. Our goal is to ensure they are shared in a timely manner and to the best of our ability.

How is information from In-Camera meetings shared?

The most common ways that information is shared from In-Camera meetings in Penticton is through the Business Arising section of an upcoming Council meeting or through a press release. The way it is communicated depends on the issue. For example, when Council was presented with an offer to purchase a publicly-owned property on Skaha Lake Road, the offer was refused and the resolution to involve the community in discussions about the future of the property was reported out at the next regular meeting to allow for an explanation of the matter by the Director of Development Services.

What is a Freedom of Information request? Why is some information blacked out in reports?

The Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA) enables the public to request records held by the City when those records are not routinely available. The City tries to respond to all of the requests for information without the need for a request under FOIPPA. Sometimes, we receive FOI requests for items that may not be released because the information is protected by FOIPPA. For these requests, personal information about citizens or information that could harm the business interests of a third party may be redacted or blacked out in the report as releasing any of this information would be in contravention of FOIPPA and we are responsible to protect the interests of the people or organizations named in the reports.

Why didn’t the City release the information discussed in the Penticton Herald series?

All of the articles discussed items that occurred in 2016 with the exception of the quote received for the aquatic and archaeological assessments which were linked to the now terminated Enhanced Marina Agreement. The current administration is focused on activities in 2017 and has a goal to reduce the number of In-Camera meetings and to report the information as quickly and completely as possible and to the best of our ability through Council meetings or other communication channels. To this end, Council has met In-Camera 18 times in 2017 compared to 38 in 2016.

Does the City need a policy for sharing information from In-Camera meetings?

The City has the tools and systems in place to communicate the information from In-Camera meetings. With our goal of reducing the number of In-Camera meetings, more information will be shared through the proper channels and in a timely manner. 

The articles suggest the City isn’t committed to sharing information. Is this true?

The City is committed to being transparent and sharing information in a complete and timely manner. We have worked hard to respond to requests for information from residents and the media without the need to make a formal request under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FOIPPA). In addition to reducing the number of In-Camera meetings and improving our response to requests for information, we are also reviewing all processes to ensure they are meaningful and reflect best practices and we have significantly increased community engagement in decisions that matter to residents. We invite you to learn more about our community engagement projects, simply visit our website at shapeyourcitypenticton.ca.