Ombudsman slaps Oshawa’s wrist over closed-door meeting (Oshawa This Week)
July 19, 2016
19 July 2016
Session with OPUC should have been held in public.
Oshawa This Week
July 19, 2016
OSHAWA - The Ontario Ombudsman has found the City contravened rules when it met behind closed doors with representatives of the Oshawa Power and Utilities Corporation.
Four complaints were filed with the Ombudsman’s office about a meeting on Dec. 17, 2015 during which OPUC representatives provided information about a proposed merger with Veridian Connections. Council deemed the meeting to be an ‘education and training’ session, so it could be held behind closed doors.
Following an investigation, the Ombudsman ruled the meeting shouldn’t have been held in private.
In a ruling issued by Paul Dubé, the Ombudsman, he noted, “During the December 17, 2015 “education and training” session, councillors were provided with detailed information about OPUC’s proposed merger with Veridian and given the opportunity to ask questions about that information. Although council did not debate the proposed merger or make a decision, the information presented and the questions asked materially advanced council’s business and decision-making. Accordingly, council was not entitled to rely on the “education and training” exception in section 239(3.1) (of the Municipal Act).”
The City is the sole shareholder of the OPUC and that presents a challenge for the municipality, Mayor John Henry said.
“It’s a difficult balance for any municipality, any organization, they fund or are the shareholder,” he noted.
“The challenge we have as a municipality is the work we do is unique. I’m a bit challenged with the conclusions,” the mayor added.
The Municipal Act outlines areas where a municipality can meet behind closed doors. Examples include personnel matters, items that are subject to solicitor-client privilege, and buying or selling land.
Councillor Amy McQuaid-England had objected to the meeting being held behind closed doors and she’s not surprised at the conclusions reached by the Ombudsman.
“I was objecting to some of the things with the meeting. I kept being ruled out of order. I left the meeting because I couldn’t participate any longer,” Coun. McQuaid-England said.
“Some of the things in the report were things I was saying in my objection. So, no, it didn’t surprise me,” she said. “Everybody makes mistakes. I hope we can move forward on this as a council and implement some of the best practices so we’re not in a situation like this in the future.”
Coun. McQuaid-England said, “I can’t confirm or deny” if she was one of the four complainants. “It’s confidential with the Ombudsman.
“I’m just glad the information is in the public and we can move forward in a manner with some of the information,” she added.
Linda Williamson, the director of communications for the Ombudsman’s office, said, “There are no punishments or consequences contained in the Municipal Act rules for open meetings. Under the act, the role of the closed meeting investigator (whether it is the Ombudsman or other investigator appointed by the municipality) is only to determine and report on whether or not the open meeting provisions of the act were violated.”
The Ombudsman included five recommendations, including “Council for the City of Oshawa should ensure that no subject is discussed in closed session unless it clearly comes within one of the statutory exceptions to the open meeting requirements.” Mayor Henry said the report was “talking about a process” and wasn’t picking on the community.
“If we have a meeting, we have to be very, very careful on how to do this,” he added.
As for the recommendations, “we’ll do what we can,” the mayor said.