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Niagara Parks Commission makes meetings public Add to ...

Stung by recent fallout from its secretive business practices, the Niagara Parks Commission has decided to open its meetings to the public for the first time in its 124-year history.

The commission's 10 to 12 politically appointed members, who oversee management of public land at Niagara Falls for the Ontario government, have faced heavy criticism for closed-door decision making, notably an untendered 25-year lease they wanted to grant to the Maid of the Mist tour boat operation.

Ontario Tourism Minister Monique Smith overturned the decision this fall and ordered an open bidding process after two government-ordered audits uncovered problems with governance and business practices at the commission. Its former chairman, Jim Williams, resigned this month in a dispute with Ms. Smith over the Maid tendering process.

At a closed commission meeting Friday, member Vince Kerrio won unanimous support for a motion to open future meetings to the public and media.

"For me, I'm just tired of the innuendo that things aren't done properly; that [the commission is]an old boys club," Mr. Kerrio, a Niagara Falls city councillor, said in an interview. Open meetings are "the only way to put it to bed and get on with our business."

Archie Katzman, the commission's acting chair, cautioned members that the move might need provincial approval, but Ms. Smith told The Globe and Mail that the commission has full authority, under the Niagara Parks Act, to make the change.

"I'm happy that they're embracing transparency," Ms. Smith said, while adding that "certain commercial and human resource issues" will still be dealt with in private, as they are at municipal councils.

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