BOW VALLEY – Elected officials in Banff met this week to be briefed on a strategic plan for how it would respond to a wildfire should one threaten the community, but the conversation was held behind closed doors.
The agenda for the August governance and finance committee was released last week and indicated the entire meeting would actually be an in-camera strategic planning session.
That means the presentation by administration to council and any discussion was not done publicly.
But Banff resident Hugh Pettigrew took issue with the secrecy used by council to discuss something of tremendous importance to the community – the risk of a possible wildfire and the Town’s emergency strategy.
“To go in-camera, in my books, it has to be related to land, legal issues or personnel and none of those were on the table this morning,” he said. “I think FireSmarting of the community is really important.”
Pettigrew expressed concerns that by going in-camera, council was not being transparent with the community about the issue.
Councillor Corrie DiManno told Pettigrew that under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) council is allowed to go in-camera to hold strategic planning sessions.
In fact, the MGA sets out that a strategic planning session is not considered an official meeting of council. Council chose to use its committee meeting timeslot for the planning session to provide transparency to the public that they were meeting to discuss that specific issue, even though it was behind closed doors.
The MGA also allows council to close an official meeting if it would disclose information that is protected under the provincial Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act.
The agenda indicated the motion to go in-camera was made under sections of that act related to disclosing advice from officials, and local body confidences.
A possible interface fire and emergency strategic plan could result from the session held on Monday and if it does, it would be presented publicly in draft form to council and debated in an open meeting. It would also be subject to public input.