Falls coun­cil needs to meet more of­ten: Craitor

Coun­cil­lor, mayor at odds over meet­ing sched­ule, closed-door ses­sions

The Niagara Falls Review - - Front Page - GORD HOWARD

Ni­a­gara Falls city coun­cil needs to meet more of­ten and hold fewer closed-door ses­sions, says Kim Craitor.

“It re­ally works for the pub­lic,” said Craitor, one of three chal­lengers hop­ing to unseat in­cum­bent Jim Dio­dati in the mayor’s race in the Oct. 22 mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

“Sim­ple things like is­sues that they bring to you as a coun­cil­lor. They say, will you bring it up at coun­cil? And you have to say, I will but it’ll be four weeks be­fore I can bring it up.”

Craitor served 13 years as a city coun­cil­lor be­fore be­ing elected MPP for Ni­a­gara Falls from 2003 to 2013, when he re­signed. He was elected to an­other four-year term on coun­cil in 2014.

“First or­der of busi­ness as mayor: Folks, we’re go­ing to go to more reg­u­lar coun­cil meet­ings,” he said. “And if there are too many, we can al­ways go back­ward.”

He also said he’d like to see coun­cil be more re­luc­tant to hold pri­vate meet­ings.

Un­der the Mu­nic­i­pal Act, lo­cal coun­cils are man­dated to go be­hind closed doors to dis­cuss sen­si­tive is­sues like land sale ne­go­ti­a­tions, per-

son­nel mat­ters and le­gal items.

A vote of coun­cil is re­quired be­fore it can meet in pri­vate, and de­ci­sions made there must be rat­i­fied later in pub­lic.

Ni­a­gara Falls city coun­cil has gone into closed ses­sion six times this year, 12 times last year and 14 times in 2016.

“It be­comes too easy to go be­hind closed doors,” Craitor said. “It gets com­fort­able … and once you’re in there, you start to de­vi­ate” to­ward top­ics that should be dis­cussed in pub­lic.

“It’s easy to spend a mil­lion dol­lars be­hind closed doors, it’s harder to spend $10,000 out in the open.”

How­ever, Dio­dati dis­puted Craitor’s crit­i­cism of coun­cil’s sched­ule, say­ing it’s in line with coun­cils from sim­i­lar-sized cities like Brant­ford and Guelph.

“Last year, Brant­ford had less meet­ings than us. And in terms of (closed-door) meet­ings, they’re all in line with what we’re do­ing,” he said, adding coun­cil’s hands are largely tied by Mu­nic­i­pal Act guide­lines.

And, he noted, coun­cil unan­i­mously ap­proved its 2018 meet­ing sched­ule last Novem­ber – on a mo­tion that Craitor sec­onded.

“If he felt there weren’t enough meet­ings, he should vote against it, or he should maybe have sug­gested there be more meet­ings,” Dio­dati said.

He said coun­cil de­cided to have fewer meet­ings this year be­tween its last one, on Aug. 14, and the next one on Nov. 13 be­cause of the Oct. 22 elec­tion.

That takes into ac­count what he called “the silly sea­son,” when some politi­cians might be prone to grand­stand­ing in front of the TV cam­eras.

“I’m for as many meet­ings as nec­es­sary, but to have a meet­ing for the sake of hav­ing a meet­ing is not a good use of any­one’s time,” Dio­dati said.

“When we have ex­tra meet­ings, we have to pay staff over­time and they’re spend­ing time pre­par­ing for meet­ings in­stead of get­ting things done.”

This year, Ni­a­gara Falls city coun­cil is sched­uled to hold 14 reg­u­lar pub­lic meet­ings. Ex­cept dur­ing sum­mer months, there’s usu­ally a two-week gap be­tween meet­ings but that gap has stretched on oc­ca­sion to four and even six weeks.

Fort Erie town coun­cil, by com­par­i­son, will have held 27 open coun­cil or com­mit­tee meet­ings in 2018, in ad­di­tion to three closed meet­ings and two spe­cial meet­ings.

Brant­ford coun­cil is due to meet 12 times this year and Guelph 14 times. Both coun­cils, how­ever, reg­u­larly have nu­mer­ous, smaller com­mit­tee meet­ings each month, while Ni­a­gara Falls coun­cil does not.

Craitor, 71, also re­it­er­ated the call he made last year for more of the pre-bud­get re­ports coun­cil re­ceives to also be made avail­able to the pub­lic.

“I firmly be­lieve that in the bud­get­ing process, ev­ery sin­gle doc­u­ment that we see … you should see it. It should be on­line,” he said.

“You give ev­ery­thing out to the pub­lic and let them be part of the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process.”

Dio­dati, 52, said the city al­ready of­fers ev­ery­thing it can.

“Ev­ery­thing was on­line,” he said. “I’m not sure what more he could pos­si­bly want … we had the pub­lic meet­ings, we did the sur­vey, we put ev­ery­thing on­line. And they can come to the (pub­lic) meet­ing.”

Craitor said as mayor, to make the job more trans­par­ent he would make his daily sched­ule pub­lic and also take part in ev­ery coun­cil vote so peo­ple know his opin­ion on ev­ery is­sue.

Gen­er­ally, a mayor’s vote is only re­quired as a tiebreaker or in a recorded coun­cil vote.

Kim Craitor

Jim Dio­dati

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