Council Meetings and the Chair’s Prerogative

Regional Council and its Committees meet in the Council Chambers on the second floor of City Hall, 320 Esplanade, Sydney, NS. All regular meetings are open to the public.

Council meetings are usually held on the third Tuesday of the month at 6:00 p.m. and are broadcast on the local Cable TV channel and via live webcast.

The General Committee meetings are usually held on the first Tuesday of the month at 9:30 a.m. and are broadcast via live webcast. — CBRM website

LocalXpress reporter Tom Ayers has been keeping on eye on the CBRM council’s meeting schedule (or lack thereof) for months now and has cried foul a number of times — most notably in November 2015 when he revealed (in an article I can’t link to because it’s in the Chronicle Herald and I’m still trying to avoid sending it traffic although I realize it now shares an owner with the Post, to which I do link, so yes, I may need to revisit this policy) that the CBRM council had held 31 in camera meetings in 22 months, none of which was announced publicly in direct contravention of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

Most recently, Ayers noticed there was no general committee meeting on the first Tuesday of this July, nor was there any announcement of a cancellation or a rescheduling, so he asked CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke what was up and Clarke explained that general committee meetings were being combined with regular council meetings for the duration of the summer. Said Clarke:

This was trying to look at summer schedules and trying to take in vacations, yet at the same time make sure we keep up the work of the municipality so that nothing is lagging behind in the fall, so we have combined meetings.

Ayers then asked why there’d been no public notice given of the change. The mayor said:

Some of that is just on the prerogative of the chair, which is myself, in terms of calling the meetings.


CBRM Council Chambers (Spectator photo)


Rules? What rules?

Oh Sweet Adeline, do I have to get out my copy of the Nova Scotia Municipal Government Act (MGA) again? I hate having to drag it around with me all summer, it makes me look like such a nerd at the beach (I keep it hidden behind an Archie comic, but sometimes it slips out).

Okay, here we go. First:

5 (1) The mayor or warden shall preside at all meetings of the council.

Yes, the mayor is the chair of council meetings and he’s also (I just checked) chair of the general committee. But nowhere does the MGA say anything about the mayor’s powers to “call meetings” other than this:

19 (3) Where the mayor or warden determines that there is an emergency, the council may meet without notice or with such notice as is possible in the circumstances.

I don’t think the circumstances outlined above by the mayor constitute an emergency, unless you consider “summer” an emergency. And even in an emergency, the public must be given “such notice as is possible.”

Responsibility for making “policies” about the times and places of meetings rests squarely with council:

23 (1) The council may make policies
(a) respecting the date, hour and place of the meetings of the council and the notice to be given for them;

Perhaps the mayor is arguing he made the change in the day and hour of the general committee meeting in his role as chair of the general committee. I’m not actually sure that would fly either:

24 (4) (4) A committee shall operate in accordance with the procedures provided in this Act and the procedural policy for the council applies to committees unless the council, by policy, decides otherwise;

Doesn’t that mean changes in the time and/or place of committee meetings must also be announced publicly? Certainly, they are — the Municipal Clerk’s department sends out such notices to the press all the time. I happen to have one right here from March 2017:

Bottom line

In any event, nowhere in the MGA does it state that keeping things from the citizenry is the mayor’s prerogative as “chair.”

As District 11 Councilor Kendra Coombes told Ayers:

I mean no wonder they consider the CBRM a little bit secretive. It’s because of these little details that actually mean a whole lot in the grand scheme of things.

I might quibble with her on the degree of secretiveness “they” attribute to the CBRM (I think it’s well beyond “a little bit” and approaching Brezhnev-era politburo levels — did I mention the current mayor presided over 31, unannounced in camera meetings in 22 months? Or that council has also, according to what the Department of Municipal Affairs told me, been breaking the rules by not announcing its semi-regular sessions with port marketer Albert Barbusci?)

But Coombes is right, “little details,” like telling the public what you, their elected representatives are doing, mean a whole lot.


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