Thursday, April 15, 2004

The Black Cloud is eclipsed by Tranquilli

'Sunshine' in council forecast

A proposed bylaw to open up city workings resulted in some details of a behind-closed-doors meeting.
MARY-JANE EGAN, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-04-15 03:03:01

As board of control yesterday welcomed a proposed bylaw to make London "the most transparent city in Ontario," controllers hunkered down for four hours behind closed doors getting legal advice on the latest council infighting. But in keeping with the spirit of the "sunshine bylaw" introduced by Coun. Fred Tranquilli, the public was told of one of the items debated in the private session.

That's helpful to the taxpayers

Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco announced a closed-door session would hear legal advice on the "legal consequences" of affidavits sworn by Coun. Roger Caranci and Controller Bud Polhill.

Their affidavits state council voted in a private session at a January meeting on a temporary control bylaw that freezes development on Richmond Street between Huron and Grosvenor streets.

The city will go to Superior Court April 28 in a bid to have the affidavits quashed, upholding the bylaw.

Toronto lawyer George Rust-D'Eye -- an expert on municipal law and conflict-of- interest legislation -- along with London lawyer Jim Caskey and city solicitor Jim Barber were at the closed-door session DeCicco said was aimed at probing "any potential legal action" arising from the actions of Caranci and Polhill.

DeCicco called it "unprecedented" that two members of city council "would swear affidavits against the city -- this is an issue of trust and we need to examine what the relationship is now between these members and council."

She said the city has had no discussions on what, if any, sanctions might be taken against the pair.

Tranquilli, who won support for some aspects of a bylaw he said is designed to make council more open and accessible to taxpayers, said he will push to give Londoners the bottom line on what this latest legal wrangle is costing.

Rust-D'Eye, of WeirFoulds Barristers and Solicitors of Toronto, has been retained over the issue of Polhill and Caranci signing affidavits confirming a vote for the bylaw was taken in a closed council session.

The affidavits support London lawyer Alan Patton's application to quash the temporary control bylaw that would pave the way for his client, RSJ Holdings Inc., to build a four-plex apartment in the affected area.

Patton contends a vote in closed session violates the Ontario Municipal Act.

The city wants a judge to quash the affidavits and have Patton removed from the case, arguing he showed professional misconduct by approaching Caranci and Polhill without consent of legal staff.

Patton has said he welcomes the opportunity to tell a judge how the city acted secretly to approve the bylaw.

An unapologetic Polhill yesterday insisted he has done "nothing wrong."

"Roger and I didn't release any confidential information. I was just asked if we took a vote in camera and I said, 'Yes.' If we went to court and a judge asked me that, I'd have said, 'Yes.' "

Tranquilli said his proposed bylaw -- to go before city council Monday with some input from the city's legal department -- will help dispel "suspicions in the community that council is discussing matters in closed-door sessions which it ought not to be discussing."

He said it's a realistic goal to make London "the most transparent city in Ontario."

The City of London can already make that claim - transparently stupid

Bylaw proposals board of control endorsed include:

- Setting a limit on the length of in-camera meetings and the amount of time members are given for the debate.

- Providing a reason why certain items are being dealt with in camera, without divulging details.

- Having a monthly report from the clerk on the amount of time city council and city committees spend in both public and private session.

Tranquilli said he sees those moves as "a positive first step."

The former television reporter said "not an in-camera meeting goes by that I haven't questioned why certain items aren't being dealt with in public."

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