Niagara Gazette

Local News

February 22, 2013

CITY SPENDING: Taxpayer-funded city council sessions at local restaurants draw mixed reviews

(Continued)

Niagara Gazette —

Council members say, as they understand it, there is no violation of the public meetings law. 

They’re getting their advice from another city official who frequently joins them for between-meeting dinners — Corporation Counsel Craig Johnson who said he doesn’t see any issue with the dinners because they are being conducted in public places, namely local restaurants.

“They’re not meeting privately,” he explains. “It’s a social event more than anything.

“It’s not unusual for citizens in the restaurant to come over and chat with those at the table and vice versa. There’s certainly nothing secret or private that’s discussed and there’s certainly no transacting of city business.”

When asked by the Gazette how residents could be assured no city business was being discussed or transacted without a record of the gatherings or members of the press or the public directly involved, Johnson said he and his fellow city attorneys were there to make sure. 

“That’s true, there are no records because it’s not a meeting,” he said. “If (council members) would tend to stray in that direction, then Mr. (assistant corporation counsel Tom) O’Donnell or I would reel them in but, so far, that hasn’t taken place.” 

Johnson acknowledged that city business is sometimes discussed and that council members do, at times, ask for legal advice regarding issues, the content of which, he argues, is protected by client-attorney privilege.

“There are issues of common interest that are discussed,” Johnson said, “but no action is taken during these meetings, nor are there any votes.”

Johnson also maintains that when similar questions were raised about the informal council session years ago, Freeman’s office provided the city with a written ruling suggesting the gatherings were allowed under the law. 

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