Ombudsman examines city council in-camera session
Andre Marin tweeted Aug. 8 that he was “wrapping up two more #OpenMtgs reports today, including the Sudbury one.”
Linda Williamson, Marin’s director of communications, said that just because the report is finished doesn’t mean it’s about to be released to the public.
“The preliminary report is complete,” Williamson said. “The next stage in the process is it will be sent to city council for comments.”
Once the ombudsman has received those comments, the next step will be to make it public, she said.
The investigation centres on four private meetings held in late 2011: one each on Oct. 3, Oct. 12, Nov. 9 and Dec. 14. Someone filed a complaint in February regarding those meetings, alleging they should not have been held ‘in camera,’ the technical term for closed-door meetings.
Under provincial law, city council can only go in camera for certain reasons, such as to get legal advice from their lawyer, sell land or to discuss a personnel matter when the employee involved will be identified. All meetings must be open unless a reason acceptable under provincial legislation is given.
In a press release, the city says the meetings dealt with “personnel matters regarding an identifiable individual (which) were discussed in accordance with the Municipal Act, 2001, 239(2)(b).
“Since being contacted in February 2012, the City of Greater Sudbury has fully co-operated and has provided all requested written documentation, within the timelines set forth,” the release said.
The last time the ombudsman investigated Sudbury city council was spring 2011, in connection to closed-door meetings held with Auditor General Brian Bigger over problems at Sudbury Transit.
Before that was the 2008 investigation of the Elton John ticket scandal that rocked the previous mayor and council in 2008. A member of the public complained that councillors met in private to discuss whether to return the dozens of tickets they bought before they went on sale to the public.
At that meeting, they decided to return as many tickets as possible, eventually handing back 71.
“In that case, the city did not violate the rules,” Williamson said, in an earlier interview.
Even if city council is found to have broken the rules, the ombudsman has no power to punish anyone. The very worst they face is a report pointing out what rules they broke and detailing the best practices that should be followed in future.
Complaints to the ombudsman are up by 27 per cent in 2012 compared to a year earlier. In all, the office handled 18,500 complaints.
In a news release, Marin also pushed for more powers for his office, arguing that the provincial Ornge air ambulance scandal could have been avoided if he had the power to examine such complaints.
“Who knows? If we’d had the ability to investigate allegations about Ornge received from patients and their families, industry insiders and whistleblowers, we might have been able to prompt the government into taking action,” he said in the release. “This is exactly the kind of proactive work we have done with many ministries and organizations.”
He also called for more oversight of school boards, universities and hospitals, especially the latter.
“The need for oversight of hospitals – a power that every other provincial ombudsman has – is particularly acute,” Marin said in the release, arguing that hospital staff is no substitute for an independent investigator.