Ombudsman finds violation in how JPAC, council handled meetings

 

 

By Ron Giofu

 

The Ombudsman of Ontario has found violations in how the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC) and town council handled in-camera meetings.

According to a report from Ombudsman Paul Dube, there were complaints that alleged that several meetings were improperly closed because they did not fit within any of the exemptions set out in the Municipal Act. Three complaints were received in November and December 2017.

Those meetings included a closed session of council July 10, 2017 about a draft Request for Proposals (RFP) for policing services, four closed session meetings of the JPAC to discuss the draft RFP held June 1, June 22, July 6 and December 7, 2017 and a closed session of council Jan. 22, 2018 to discuss the composition of the JPAC.

Dube said the town was advised Jan. 12 and Jan. 24 of his office’s intent to investigate the complaints.

While acknowledging that council and the JPAC “operated in good faith in closing these meetings to the public and understand their concerns about public discussion of sensitive policing information,” there were violations found. Dube’s report stated the JPAC violated the town’s local boards/committees terms of reference when it discussed the police costing RFP in closed session June 1, June 22, July 6 and Dec. 7, 2017.

“Failing to comply with these terms of reference was wrong under s. 21 (1)(d) of the Ombudsman Act,” Dube wrote. “The discussion about the request for proposals did not fit within the ‘security of the property’ exception or any of the exceptions provided in the local boards/committees – terms of reference.”

Dube also found that town council contravened the Municipal Act when it discussed the police costing in closed session July 10, 2017. In his opinion, Dube stated the “discussion about the request for proposals did not fit within the exceptions to the open meetings requirement of the Act.”

The news wasn’t all bad for the town, as the Ombudsman found that council did not contravene the Municipal Act when it discussed the JPAC composition in an in-camera meeting Jan. 22, 2018. Dube’s report stated that “the discussion on that date fit within the Act’s ‘personal matters about an identifiable individual’ exception.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo speaks to the media after the Feb. 26 vote that saw council vote 3-2 to contract policing services to Windsor. The Ombudsman of Ontario has found that council and the Joint Police Advisory Committee (JPAC) had several contraventions as it dealt with in-camera meetings.

There were four recommendations in Dube’s report “to assist the Town of Amherstburg in fulfilling its obligations under the Act and ensuring the transparency of its meetings.” The first recommendation was that “all members of council for the Town of Amherstburg should be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligation to ensure that council complies with its responsibilities under the Municipal Act, 2001 and its own procedural bylaw.”

The second recommendation was that “committee members for the Town of Amherstburg should be vigilant in complying with the local boards/committees – terms of reference” while the third recommendation was that the “Town of Amherstburg should ensure that no subject is discussed in closed session unless it clearly comes with one of the statutory exceptions to the open meeting requirements.”

The fourth recommendation was that “the Town of Amherstburg should clearly set out the rules for committees around holding closed meetings. The procedure bylaw should be consistent with the committee’s terms of reference in setting out open meeting rules.”

Mayor Aldo DiCarlo said in the three-and-a-half years this council has been in office, it is only the second time that an Ombudsman’s report has found contraventions.

“Our initial response was a bit of surprise,” said DiCarlo, of the recent report.

The previous contravention was early in the term when clerk Paula Parker was away and there was uncertainty while she was gone about the reason to go in-camera. There have been investigations since, said DiCarlo, but this is the first time since early in the term that anything was found.

DiCarlo said they have made gains from where the previous council was, stating there were 10-13 violations in one year at one point last term. The mayor said at least one of the current contraventions would not even be one today due to legislative changes. He also pointed out the statement by the Ombudsman that the town was trying to act in good faith.

Many of the issues will not arise again, he added, due to the fact there will be no more meetings by this council on the policing issue.

“It was a one-off process,” he said. “It’s an anomaly. Council is never going to discuss this again unless the OCPC doesn’t approve our application (to switch to Windsor police) and a future council wants to do it over again.”

Some of the meetings involved operational matters and some confidentiality issues, he added, so while the Ombudsman found some issues, the mayor wonders if they will become issues the Amherstburg Police Services Board may have to look at.

DiCarlo added that regular council meetings have yielded nothing in the way of issues for the Ombudsman’s office.

The findings of the Ombudsman will be used to improve how the town does business, the mayor stated.

“They give us information to clarify what is and isn’t appropriate,” he said. “We will apply the recommendations to all our future meetings of council.”

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