At a special council meeting Thursday, that began with more than two hours of councillors meeting behind closed doors, Lord Mayor Betty Disero spoke of the frequent need for discussions out of the eye of the public over the last year, and explained why.
With the help of Coun. Stuart McCormack, a retired lawyer, she explained for the sake of those in attendance and watching the livestream of the meeting why there have been so many in camera sessions in recent months.
Some of the discussions council has had, such as issues regarding real estate (including the hospital and some acreage behind the former high school), litigation regarding John Street, and the need to talk about personnel, have had to be dealt with in camera, she said — those are three areas the Municipal Act allows for in closed-door sessions.
“We do so to avail ourselves of the opportunity to have a free and frank discussion of legal proceedings, to understand the strengths and weaknesses of our legal positions in a confidential setting and thus be able to have those discussions be protected by solicitor client privilege,” she said.
“Communications and documents protected by solicitor-client privilege are confidential as between the client and the lawyer. This means that what might otherwise be relevant evidence or information, admissible in court or required to be disclosed to the other side in a lawsuit, can be kept confidential,” said Disero.
In order to claim solicitor-client privilege, and keep otherwise relevant information private, three preconditions must be met, she said. “The communication must be between lawyer and client; for the purpose seeking or giving or legal advice; and intended to be confidential by the parties.”
Solicitor-client privilege protects legal advice, communications between lawyer and client, as well as any related materials, said Disero.
She was providing the information because she’s been asked by public and media why council has had so many in camera meetings, she said.
Following a question by Coun. Clare Cameron about residents’ concerns over closed-door meetings, Disero agreed there are official channels members of the public can use, and suggested they can contact town clerk Peter Todd for more information.
When council returns to open session after an in camera meeting (in camera is a Latin term which, in this context, means in private, involving a confidential discussion), it either presents a report to the public, usually because it requires a vote, or states that there is no report, which means at that time there is no decision requiring a council vote.
After Thursday’s closed-door session, which was to discuss a John Street property and negotiations relating to a Wellington Street property, council had no report on either issue to make public.