The investigation centred 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, which concerned the performance of Auditor General Brian Bigger, 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 June press release, the city said 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.
According to Marin's report, the complaint was that the meetings about the auditor general should have been held in an open forum because the discussion concerned the office of the auditor general, not Brian Bigger himself. However, the ombudsman found that since the office consists of Bigger and one employee, separating the office from the person is practically impossible, so council was fully in compliance with municipal rules.
However, Marin noted the majority of those interviewed as part of the investigation — 12 of 14 — bascially attempted to stonewall him by refusing to speak to investigators without a lawyer present.
“Under section 18(2) of the Ombudsman Act, my investigations must be carried out in private. In order to protect the integrity of our process, we do not permit municipal representatives, including legal counsel acting on behalf of a municipality, to be present during our witness interviews,” Marin noted in the report, adding councillors should be familiar with the process since they had gone through it before. “Our interview practice encourages witnesses, including those wishing to 'blow the whistle' on questionable closed meetings, to be candid and open with our investigators, and also minimizes the potential for outside influence of testimony.”
He also called council's co-operation “absymal.”
“The fact that only four of the 14 individuals we asked to interview were prepared to co-operate with my Office is an affront to the citizens of Sudbury,” Marin wrote. “The abysmal co-operation level of this city council has offended the Ombudsman Act.”
Stay with Northern Life for more on this developing story.