Case closed on secret meeting
Property Owners case wraps up, decision expected today
NNSL (May 27/98) - NWT Supreme Court Justice Howard Irving expects to deliver his decision today on the secret-meetings lawsuit.
At the centre of the case are two questions: First, were council decisions made at the closed meetings? And second, are secret meetings actually "meetings" as defined by the NWT Cities, Towns and Villages Act?
Irving said he will rule on those and other issues at 2 p.m. in Courtroom 3.
In his closing argument Tuesday in the case between the city and the Yellowknife Property Owners Association, the city's lawyer contended yesterday that any decisions made at the meetings were purely administrative and legal.
The suit was launched by the association to bring a permanent end to city council's habit of holding regular secret meetings, which the association argues is against NWT law.
Association lawyer Steven Cooper argued that any decisions that "materially advanced" the business of the city ought to have been made in public.
In his summation, Cooper said Lagore had "high-jacked" the democratic process. "He took away the authority of council and council improperly acquiesced," Cooper told the court.
During his three-hour closing argument, Burgess said secret meetings were not covered by the Cities, Towns and Villages Act, the territorial law that dictates how municipal governments must operate.
Burgess noted only three types of meetings are addressed in the act -- regular meetings of council, special meetings of council and committee meetings.
Irving was skeptical.
"Isn't that the Bible as far as meetings are concerned?" he suggested, referring to the act. "Or can somebody just invent a new name for a meeting and hold it in private?"
Burgess noted that because council can, by law, act only through motions or resolutions. No city business could be advanced because no motions or resolutions were made at the meetings.
The city's view of secret meetings was put to the test Friday, when former city administrator Doug Lagore was cross-examined on the stand.
"I think you'd agree with me that the word 'agree' shows up a lot in these minutes," said Cooper, referring to records of the meeting kept by then clerk Corall Calioux.
"Yes," said Lagore, who went on to say the minutes included numerous mistakes. He said they could not properly be considered minutes because they were never reviewed or approved by council.
"So, in every instance the word 'agreed' appeared, the clerk was in error?" asked Cooper.
"I'd have to go through and look at them," said Lagore.
"Was there one instance where the clerk got it right?" countered Cooper.
Lagore again said he would have to review the minutes.
Lagore admitted that during the weekly meetings between October 1994 to January 1996 he "sought and received" direction on the city's dealings with the Woodyard, Tuaro Dairy, Ragged Ass Road land swap, relocation of the Yellowknife Ski Club, Niven Lake subdivision and the aldermen's code of conduct.
Though Lagore was appointed to represent the city at the hearing, staff were taking no chances. At one point Friday, there were five senior members of administration in the gallery.