Report defines protocol for in-camera sessions


By Karen Fallon

A report by Brenda Percy manager council & legislative services, on the protocol for in-camera meetings sparked discussion regarding involvement by the Ombudsman’s Office.

“We shouldn’t be patting our backs just yet,” said councilor Diane Pouget.  “We are being investigated for two other meetings and we don’t have the results of that yet…we are not in the clear just yet,” she said.

Councillor John Sutton said that the “thorough and concise” report from Percy is a tool that can used by future councils to help them decide whether or not an issue should be dealt with in-camera.

The Municipal Act and town’s procedural by-law currently provides the framework for in-camera meetings. However, the policy presented by Percy at Monday nights meeting was said to be more detailed on internal process and best practices.

According to Percy’s report Section 239 of the Municipal Act, 2001 establishes the regulatory framework under which a council, board or committee may go into closed session for discussion of a matter.

“I think the fact that there were no comments from either the minister of Municipal Affairs or the Ombudsman’s Office bears well,” said Sutton. “I think if there was anything lacking (from the report) they would have certainly pointed that out.”

Complaints filed with the Ombudsman’s office in March 2011 resulted in a report entitled “Behind Closed Doors” which revealed that council had contravened the open meeting requirements in a number of respects relative to the Municipal Act and its own procedural by-law.

The investigation called into question a number of closed meetings held by the Town of Amherstburg on Jan 7, 10, 20, 24, and March 25, 2011.

Included in the Ombudsman’s report were a number of recommendations to improve the town’s procedures around closed meetings.

In her report to council Percy noted that feedback on the new policy was sought from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing and the Ombudsman Office, neither of which had any further comments.

However, in a recent tweet to the town Ombudsman Andre Marin wrote: “Hats off to the town of Amherstburg. Council is shaping up as transparency and openness aware.”

Councillor Bart DiPasquale says on investigation he discovered that the “no comments” was standard practice for most government organizations at this stage of the procedure.

DiPasquale joined Pouget in commending the citizens and members of council who sought assistance from the Ombudsman’s Office when questions were raised about closed-door meetings

“Maybe now we will be able to move on in a positive manner,” said DiPasquale.

Councillor Carolyn Davies says: “I think we should credit ourselves with doing the best job we can, but at the same time be very cautious that we are not feeling so uncomfortable that we are afraid to do our due diligence with confidentiality that the community deserves,” said Davies.

“We did make mistakes yes, but we have to move on and work together,” said councilor Robert Pillon. “No more bickering.”

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