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Keep council meetings open

Your council might be up to something. We wish we could tell you more, but we can't. And Increasingly, major discussions and decisions are for that, blame the council members.

Your council might be up to something. We wish we could tell you more, but we can't.

And Increasingly, major discussions and decisions are for that, blame the council members. taking place behind closed doors -in camera meetings, they are called officially.

These meetings exclude members of the public, leaving us with no information about the issues raised or the reasons why decisions were made.

Case in point: Victoria is deciding on options to replace the Victoria Curling Club's building, which is 59 years old and shows it. Councillors discussed a feasibility report -paid for by the club as well as the four core municipalities -in camera, even though the report itself is a public document.

True, the city needs to conduct its meetings about land matters and leases in private; that makes perfect sense.

But too often, the presence of a land issue is enough to convince councillors to drive the public out.

In this case, Mayor Dean Fortin has admitted that council was hasty in rushing to lock the doors. In hindsight, he says, council should have conducted some of its discussion in public.

Case in point: Colwood, where council members seem to believe that the massive Royal Bay development can only be considered when the room has been cleared of the public and the media.

Royal Bay has the potential to change the face of Colwood forever, and adding a marina to the development would have an impact in the entire region. There were huge public hearings into the original plans, so council cannot suggest that the public would not care about any new directions.

Members of the public have the right to know what councillors are doing and saying, and the right to express their opinions. Council members might not like to hear those opinions, or might prefer to avoid confrontations with voters, but the fact remains: Members of the public have basic rights.

Politicians at all levels promise to be open and transparent in their dealings, but then often do everything they can to avoid transparency. That attitude does nothing to bridge the gap between politicians and everyone else -and ultimately, the secrecy can hurt the credibility of those we elect.

How do we know whether councillors -or MLAs, or MPs -are really working in our best interest? How can we judge them as we consider our choices in the next election? How can we have a say in what is happening in our communities if our representatives won't let us know what is up? How can taxpayers feel engaged when they are pushed aside?

The public should have a say in critical matters before council makes its decision -and that decision should reflect, when possible, the wishes of the people. We are not asking for mere lip service to the notion of openness; we want the doors thrown wide open.

The fate of the curling club, which could include a 99year lease on the city-owned property, matters to the entire city, not just to those on council.

The proposal for a marina at Royal Bay represents a dramatic change for Colwood.

How many other massive projects are in the wind, being considered in secret by local councils?

There will always be valid reasons to hold in-camera meetings. There will always be council members who rush to close the doors for no valid reason at all.

If they care about their communities, councillors will fight to keep those doors open as much as they can.