How Do Other Municipalities Treat Observers of Public Meetings?

An interesting question was posed to me tonight - how would other municipalities react to having an local independent journalist at almost all their meetings?

It's not a question I cannot answer, because there are no direct comparisons to my work.

What I can state is how I've been treated when attending meetings in other municipalities.

I've infrequently attended Burlington City Council meetings in the past couple of years. Each time, I sit near the back of the room to use the electrical plugs in the public gallery. The first two times I attended, city staff noticed me in the gallery and told me I was welcome to use the media table if I wished. Each time since, the staff and Councillors have been very welcoming.

In March 2015 I attended a couple of Toronto City Council meetings. Toronto staff know me from my open data work. They gave me a print copy of agendas, and stated I could use an empty seat in their media area during the committee meetings.

Back in 2008, I was covering Oshawa City Council's attempts to pass a radial separation bylaw to limit the number of students living near the UOIT/Durham College campus. The head of municipal bylaw enforcement tried to block me from entering the Council meeting, saying non-residents where not allowed due to fire code regulations. I gave him the business card for my editor, and my media outlet's lawyer. I told him he needed to contact them if he choose to arrest me. I went into the media, sat at the media table, and that was that.

My feeling is that both Burlington and Toronto would welcome public scrutiny of public meetings, they are both transparent municipal governments with healthy non-politicized bureaucracies.

I'll add Guelph to this list, they had me speak at a staff development event - open to the public - in March of 2016 on the very topic of encouraging independent blogs and media to form in Guelph.

I haven't been to Oshawa since 2009, so I can't speak to their current state of affairs.

I believe the more transparent a government is in practice, the less likely it is they have things to hide, and the more welcoming they will be to having local independent journalists in their community.

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