Ombudsman to release his report on how well municipalities are complying with rules
Marin will release his report on enforcing the meetings law at a news conference at 1 p.m. in the Queen’s Park Media Studio. Marin is expected to discuss transparency at the municipal level and highlight recent cases handled by his office’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET), which has investigated complaints about closed municipal meetings since 2008.
While cleared of any wrongdoing, Sudbury city councillors came in for some barbed criticism from the ombudsman in 2012 for their refusal to co-operate with an investigation his office conducted last spring.
Marin’s office was asked to investigate four private or ‘in-camera’ meetings held in late 2011. In his report, he writes the meetings were held to discuss whether to renew the contract of Auditor General Brian Bigger.
In those discussions, held in October, November and December 2011, council agreed to have Mayor Marianne Matichuk find a firm to audit Bigger’s office.
Marin ruled that councillors were discussing a personnel matter and, under the Municipal Act, were allowed to hold those meetings behind closed doors. But he singled out Sudbury councillors as the least co-operative of any council he has ever investigated.
“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.”
He said that under the act, anyone who refuses to co-operate with an investigation is subject to a fine of $500 and up to three months in jail. While his office isn’t pursuing charges, he criticized councillors for not “respecting the rule of law.
“In future, we expect greater maturity from council members under investigation. We will not hesitate to avail ourselves of the legal tools at our disposal to ensure that the Sudbury council co-operates fully.”
Only Mayor Marianne Matichuk, city clerk Caroline Hallsworth and councillors Claude Berthiaume and Doug Craig agreed to co-operate with Marin’s OMLET team.
In their defence, some councillors said they had a right to have legal counsel present during the interview, an opinion backed up by the city’s legal department.
Last August, Ward 10 Coun. Frances Caldarelli told Northern Life she and the rest of city council were willing to be interviewed by Marin’s office.
“We weren’t reluctant to co-operate at all,” Caldarelli said. “But we wanted someone from the city solicitor’s office present.
“If you look at the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, everyone in this country is entitled to have legal representation,” she said. “So we all went, we were all there, we said we would be glad to be interviewed, but we want a member of the city’s legal staff to be with us, and they said no. So we said that we can’t stay.
“You can’t tell someone that they have to go and talk to them, and answer their questions, without legal representation. That’s not reasonable and that’s not fair.”
In an attempt to improve their relationship and clear up any misunderstanding, Marin is coming to Sudbury to address a meeting of city council Dec. 11.
The open meetings news conference Oct. 30 will be streamed live and can be watched online at the Ombudsman’s website, www.ombudsman.on.ca, where the full report and media materials will also be posted at 1 p.m.
As well, live updates will be posted at the Ombudsman’s Twitter account – www.twitter.com/Ont_Ombudsman. Video of the news conference will be posted later on YouTube (www.YouTube.com/OntarioOmbudsman).