Mayor’s Advisory Committee abruptly closes public meeting on West End’s future

Last week West End Neighbours (WEN) reported that the Mayor’s West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC) would meet on June 23, 2011, and encouraged West End residents to attend.

The meetings are open to the public as observers. Several West End residents made their way to City Hall where they were able to observe the scheduled meeting for about 15 minutes when, with no advance notice, a member of the committee moved for the remainder of the meeting go “in camera” (closed to the public) without explanation.

The motion passed, and the Chair immediately asked observers to leave for the committee to continue with the remaining agenda items, which included reviewing the draft report following WEMAC’s community wide survey. When asked to provide the basis upon which the committee could go “in camera” (as, we believe, the Vancouver Charter requires), no further explanation was given. The Chair indicated that the entire rest of the meeting would be closed to the public. After observers were slow to leave, the Committee members and the city clerk left the room and apparently continued to meet elsewhere. WEN is concerned about this matter, as this was an important meeting of the Committee to finalize its report to the Mayor, with implications for the livability, character, and future of the West End. WEN wrote the next day to the City Clerk to clarify whether or not WEMAC’s actions were permitted by City of Vancouver regulations. We have been waiting nearly a week for a response, and will report more when we receive one.  (We also still await responses from the Mayor and City’s privacy officer on other issues, such as this.)

Fast Facts:

  • WEMAC was established by City Council on July 8, 2010. Members were selected in September 2010 by two Councillors who remain on the Committee, Tim Stevenson, and Co-Chair Andrea Reimer. See mandate of the committee at bottom of this message.
  • WEMAC held several closed door meetings directly with developers and architects seeking rezonings in the West End.
  • WEMAC held no public meetings in direct consultation with the community.
  • WEMAC is doing work with public funds (e.g., $10,000 spent on WEMAC’s survey, and other financial and personnel resources of the City have gone into this committee).
  • Some citizens are concerned that WEMAC or its members have already displayed a bias favouring the wishes of developers long before the results of WEMAC’s survey work was completed (e.g., WEMAC’s public statement endorsing the demolition of St. John’s Church at 1401 Comox, the day after having met with the architect of that project).
  • WEN has formally requested that WEMAC hold public meetings with the community in the West End before the Committee submits its final report to the Mayor. We have received no response to this request.
  • The meeting on June 23 was, according to WEMAC’s work plan, the last scheduled meeting of the Committee and presumably was of great importance, to discuss and approve the final draft report to the Mayor.
  • WEMAC plans to meet with the Mayor during the week of July 6 to review the draft report, and then issue the final version to him the week of July 13.
  • The public has not been informed exactly how the report will be used, and whether or not it will be shared with the rest of City Council or made public.

WEN’s view:

  • The meetings and discussions of WEMAC should be accessible for the public to observe. This is not a private organization, but a committee doing work that will influence our community, and is spending municipal funds. It must function in a legal manner and operate with transparency.
  • We believe, as provided for in the Vancouver Charter, that any Advisory Committee must indicate, in advance, the basis under which it intends to go in-camera (closed to the public) in accordance with section 165.3(1). On June 23, no mention of going “in camera” was written in the agenda, no reason was offered when the motion was made to go “in camera,” and no explanation was given even upon request by citizens at the meeting. If our understanding is correct, the Committee was in breach of the Vancouver Charter and/or Procedures Bylaw.
  • These actions of the committee give us added concern about the content of the upcoming final report to the Mayor.

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Excerpt of WEN’s letter to Vancouver City Clerk
Subject: Inquiry on Advisory Committee Procedures, re WEMAC meeting 23-June-2011
Date: June 24, 2011
To: City Clerk of City of Vancouver

I am writing to ask for your clarification of the regulations surrounding the procedures followed at the meeting of the West End Mayor’s Advisory Committee (WEMAC) at 6:30 pm on June 23, 2011. It is our understanding that as a City Advisory Committee, WEMAC meetings are open to the public. The meeting agenda was published in advance and is attached for reference. Please note that there was no mention in the agenda of the meeting going “in camera.”

About fifteen minutes after the meeting was called to order in Committee Room 1 at Vancouver City Hall, a member of the committee moved that the meeting go “in camera.” No reason was provided for this change in meeting format. The motion passed with all in favour and without any discussion. Members of the public in attendance requested information on the regulatory basis to permit the Committee to go “in camera.” The Committee refused to offer a reason, and after citizens were slow to vacate the room, the entire Committee walked out, indicating they would continue the meeting in another room.

This Advisory Committee was created by a motion adopted by City Council on July 8, 2010, and this week is at the final phase of preparing a report to the Mayor on community priorities and development in the West End. Having met several times with developers, but not once with citizens, the Committee is preparing advice to the Mayor that could change the character and livability of the West End for generations. It is not unreasonable to expect that at the very least the meetings of the Committee take place in public.

It is our understanding that paragraph 165.2 of the Vancouver Charter sets out the criteria under which meetings may be “closed,” and 165.3 sets out the procedures to “close” a meeting. Also, 165.7 of the Vancouver Charter makes it clear that these requirements apply to (among others) “an advisory committee, or other advisory body, established by Council under this or another Act.”

When WEMAC chose to deny the public access to this meeting, I believe it was required to indicate why the committee was going “in camera,” confirm that the reason meets the criteria of the Charter, and then vote in an open meeting to retreat to an “in camera” meeting. It appears that WEMAC violated those requirements at their meeting of June 23, 2011.

As the Vancouver Charter and the City’s Procedure Bylaw are based in an expectation that all bodies at City Hall operate with transparency, we ask that you review the circumstances of this meeting and the Committee’s decision to hold an “in camera” meeting without notice. We would like to know whether or not WEMAC’s actions at the meeting of June 23, 2001 violated any requirements under the Vancouver Charter, or any bylaw or guideline of the City.

As these questions are of a time-sensitive nature, we request a prompt acknowledgment of receipt of this message, and a timely response to the concerns raised.
R. Helten
President, West End Neighbours
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REFERENCE

Official Mandate of WEMAC (from terms of reference adopted July 8, 2010)

The Mayor’s West End Community Advisory Committee is an interim measure to a formal planning process being undertaken. The Committee is responsible for communicating community priorities to the City in its planning and policy development and for helping to communicate City policy initiatives that may be of interest to residents in the West End.

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