Correction November 21, 2020 at 12:17 pm: The mover of the motion to hold a special Board meeting was Chair Jaye Robinson, not Commissioner Shelley Carroll.
Near the end of the recent TTC Board meeting, Chair Jaye Robinson moved that the Board hold a special session to deal with the 2021 Budget. In the midst of the debate, the Board began talking about whether this should be a standard public meeting or if they could meet in camera.
Commissioner Ron Lalonde, chair of the TTC’s Audit & Risk Management Committee, asked whether his committee could meet in camera, a practice he is used to in the private sector. Because the TTC is bound by the City of Toronto Act and its provisions regarding open meetings, the Board and its committees can only go in camera for specific reasons listed in the act to deal with labour relations, security and other sensitive issues.
There is a way to get around this by meeting as a “working group” that does not make any decisions, but can act as a talking shop for management and the Board out of prying eyes. If there are any formal decisions to be made, they are agreed to in private and then reported out to a public meeting for the purpose of a rubber stamp approval.
What might have been discussed, what the positions of Board members and management might be, what options were even considered, even the fact that a meeting will take place, these are all cloaked in secrecy. Members of the public might depute to a public Board meeting before it ratifies any decision, but they will do so with no knowledge of what was actually discussed or the ability to present counterarguments. This is a convenient, but gaping, procedural hole.
The Board may find deputations tiresome, including those from “the usual suspects” (I was a regular among this group until I moved my commentary online), but this misses the whole point about public debate. We are in a period of severe social and fiscal constraints, and the public deserves to know about and have input into decisions on key services such as transit.
If the Board has specific issues it needs to debate in private, and for which the City of Toronto Act provides, then be my guest. As for “working groups”, they have no place in public decision-making. Toronto has a history of decisions that were made under cover, including money changing hands in the City Hall parking garage.
There is good reason to believe that lobbyists routinely talk to TTC Board members and Councillors about matters of public interest. These interactions are documented in the Lobbyist Registry, itself a product of an era in Toronto politics that many have forgotten.
The unseemly “deputation” by an eBus manufacturer that was little more than a sales pitch to the Board was probably only the tip of the iceberg. The stage management of a Board meeting was so lax that we actually got to see how the sausage gets made (to mix a few metaphors). That betrayed both sloppiness and a presumption that bending the rules really didn’t matter. I know that then-CEO Andy Byford was livid about this, but powerless to stop it.
Once upon a time, there were “citizen members” on the TTC Board, and this practice was ended because one of them had his hand in the cookie jar.
The TTC Board would do well to remember its history.
Updated November 22, 2020 at 4:40 pm: For further history of the attempt to have formal meetings of a Budget Committee at the TTC, please see my omnibus article on the board meeting.