"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Thursday 13 December 2007

Weighty Matters

I have served on many councils over the last forty years. I was the last Reeve of Aurora and served on the last County Council .. I held the Office of Mayor and Regional Councillor four years, I served on a government review board for nine years and travelled to just about every city, town and village in Ontario.

I was a member of the Police Services Board, York County Hospital Board, Lake Simcoe Conservation Authority and Childrens' Aid Society and I chaired the York Region Public Health Board.

I have associated with Police Chiefs, Hospital Directors, Planners, Doctors, Engineers, Municipal Clerks and CAOs. I worked as a reporter during a rest period from town politics and covered the affairs of a rural municipality and the York County Board of Education. A Director of Education crossed my path. I've dealt with several dozen lawyers, a few of them outstanding. I've met with cabinet ministers and their deputies, and worked well with a number of Mayors and an army of councillors.

Along the way I learned from everyone but the best lesson of all was to trust my own judgement.

Aurora Council had two external lawyers at the Town Hall this week to advise on separate matters. Both presentations were of course made behind closed doors.

Until recently, no record was kept of proceedings of a closed meeting. It is still true of discussion but now there needs to be a vote to provide direction to staff and that must be a matter of record ,though still not public.

For forty years, I have maintained the confidentiality of deliberations that had the potential of harming the town's interest , sometimes at my own cost politically..

The definition and intent of regulations regarding Conflict of Interest and Pecuniary Advantage are not complicated. There is nothing difficult about knowing if or when one is likely to benefit financially from participating in a discussion or a vote that carries the authority of elected office. There are no pitfalls for honest sensible people. Wealth is not the corollary of power as a councillor in the Town of Aurora ..

As noted above, two lawyers have provided legal opinions to councillors behind closed doors. Staff were permitted to attend. The question now is whether the interest of the municipal corporation would be harmed by public discussion of the issues. Is there a possibility of litigation against or arising from the proceedings?

Is there a person who might suffer loss of privacy from public disclosure?

Are politicians entitled to discuss political matters behind closed doors to weild clout they might not have in a public setting or save themselves embarrassment by loss of face?

The questions are weighty but delicious.

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