Falls council needs to meet more often: Craitor
Councillor, mayor at odds over meeting schedule, closed-door sessions
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.