A group of young Hamiltonians says they were turned away from a public meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake, where a City of Hamilton steering committee is holding confidential interviews for the city manager position.
Deanna Allain says she and three other concerned citizens arrived at White Oaks Resort and Spa for the meeting on Saturday morning but were allegedly told by an employee at the facility that they had to leave.
“We wanted to attend the meeting because it is a public meeting,” said Allain. “There’s an in-camera session for the (city manager) interviews, but the beginning and end have to be public.”
However, when the group arrived, Allain said the manager of White Oaks was waiting for them at the door.
A video of the group’s interaction with a White Oaks employee was posted on Facebook by Eric Gillis, who was among those who made the trek from Hamilton.
“They asked us what we were doing there, and we said that we were looking to attend a public meeting with the City of Hamilton,” Allain explained, saying that the employee asked the group to produce an email invitation to the meeting.
“We said that you don’t need an email invite to attend a public meeting, and they said that they were informed by the City of Hamilton that they were only to permit people that had this email invite,” she continued.
Allain says her group knew the city manager interviews would be conducted in private, but she and her fellow citizens wanted to be present for the public portions of the meeting. She adds that the group had filed requests to speak at the meeting but were denied.
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“This is in no way meant to be confrontational,” said Allain. “This was not a protest. This was just four citizens that wanted to attend a public meeting because we weren’t allowed to delegate.”
The location of the meeting and the lack of diversity on the steering committee were among the issues Allain wanted to raise with city officials.
This comes after a debate at a Thursday meeting of Hamilton city council during which some critics expressed concern about a lack of diversity on the city manager steering committee.
A motion from Ward 3 Coun. Nrinder Nann called for a pause in the hiring process, but it was defeated by committee members 11-3.
Nann posted on Twitter following the group’s alleged dismissal from the resort, saying: “Until a meeting officially goes ‘in-camera,’ it must indeed be accessible to the public.”
Allain later took to Facebook to present her argument on Saturday afternoon.
“We know that the city manager has a large role in shaping the entire future of the city and we’re young people,” Allain said. “We know that this is our future. We want to have a say in it.”
Sam Merulla, Ward 4 Councillor and member of the steering committee, sent an email to media in response to the incident on Sunday morning:
“It was a highly private and confidential interview process with candidates applying in confidence who are presently employed and do not want to risk their present employment for seeking employment in Hamilton as City Manager.“There is no public aspect to the meeting except calling the meeting to order and adjournment.“We lost a great female candidate due to the negative press. There is a time and place for public input, highly private and confidential employment interviews is not a place nor a time to expose highly qualified professionals and a breach of their legally entitled privacy to seeking employment.”
“First, our responsibilities to protect the identity of potential candidates is paramount. Protection of privacy is obligatory on municipalities.
“The Municipal Act does not supersede privacy laws in Ontario. When the Mayor and Council became aware of the potential for privacy breeches of our candidates, I would argue that it was imperative for the committee to act judiciously to prevent any candidates from being seen or photographed by a third party.”
“In this unprecedented situation, there are clearly competing interests between the Municipal Act and the Privacy components of MFIPPA. However, the city has an obligation and is bound to protect the identities of candidates for the CAO position. To do anything less, could have negatively impacted the current employment of these candidates and exposed the city to unnecessary damages.”
Ward 6 Councillor Tom Jackson also weighed in on the email exchange:
“…I’m saddened to hear a quality female candidate has decided to withdraw. Having been on a past similar Selection Committee, no matter the makeup of the Committee membership itself, confidentiality is paramount for applicants, for privacy/personnel reasons…”