Ombudsman

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.”

E-mail approval of accounts improper, mayor says lesson learned

By Jonathan Martin

Amherstburg town council has addressed its violation of the Municipal Act.

An Ontario ombudsman’s report outlining the years-old violation was brought up for discussion at the July 11 regular meeting. The report describes an instance where council held a meeting in private when it should have been public.

In December 2014, Amherstburg’s town council corresponded through e-mail to approve the release of municipal funds to a number of accounts payable. Based on the results cases going back over the past decade, the ombudsman determined that e-mail correspondence qualifies as holding a meeting.

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According to the 2001 Municipal Act, all council meetings must be open to the public unless the subject matter of the meeting contains certain elements. The discussion of accounts payable does not meet those standards.

“What I would like the public to know is that we haven’t done it since,” said Amherstburg mayor Aldo DiCarlo. “It’s a learning thing, just like anything else that happens.”

In interviews conducted by the ombudsman’s office, council stated it approved the payments through e-mail because the money needed to be sent out before the next public meeting.

“That Christmas was one of those times when without that approval over the holidays, we would have had a number of delinquent accounts,” DiCarlo said. “At the very least, we would have been charged interest on them.”

While council did not suffer any form of punishment for violating the Municipal Act, the ombudsman made several recommendations to prevent something similar from happening again.

The report also addressed an allegation that council had held an illegal in-camera meeting on October 14, 2015 and another on October 26. However, it was determined that council was within its rights.

The ombudsman’s report is available to download from Amhersburg’s website.

Ombudsman finds fault with council meeting, town to use it as “learning opportunity”

 

Town Logo Small-webBy Ron Giofu

 

One of the first meetings of the new town council didn’t go as well as the Ontario Ombudsman would have hoped.

A discussion of bank signing authorities took place in-camera at a Dec. 10, 2014 meeting without prior notice with the complainant alleging the closed session violated the Municipal Act. The town received the report from Ombudsman Andre Marin March 30, with Marin stating council “was permitted, under the ‘personal matters’ exception in the Municipal Act, to meet in closed session on December 10 to discuss the appointment of a specific individual to the position of treasurer. Council was not permitted to discuss bank signing authorities in closed session at this same meeting, and in doing so violated the Act.”

Marin added that council passed a motion to go in-camera that did not meet the requirements of the Municipal Act. He recommended that the town should ensure that no subject is discussed in closed session unless it comes within one of the exceptions to the open meeting requirements of the Municipal Act, that the Town of Amherstburg should ensure that all resolutions to proceed in-camera provide a general description of the subject matter to be discussed in closed session and that the Town of Amherstburg should implement a practice of audio or video recording its closed sessions.

“I think it’s a learning opportunity at this point,” said Mayor Aldo DiCarlo.

DiCarlo said one item they went in-camera on that night was “clearly appropriate” but believed the Ombudsman “seemed to understand why we thought (the other matter) should have been appropriate” although noted it didn’t meet the requirements for an in-camera meeting.

DiCarlo noted clerk Paula Parker was away on medical leave during that time period and the deputy clerk didn’t have the knowledge of the procedures that Parker has.

“Our regular clerk has more information than the deputy clerk had at that time,” said DiCarlo.

Restructuring has taken place in that department and the deputy clerk now sits in during in-camera sessions to learn the proper procedures.

Prior reports have been longer and more involved than this one, he added, stating the new council made a mistake it has learned from.

“It is what is,” said DiCarlo. “We’ve learned and moved on.”