Blog Archives

Sudbury City Council fire Ontario Ombudsman

Sudbury, Ontario Ward 3 councilour, Claude Berthiaume who has a history of being against accountability, brought a motion forward at Tuesdays Sudbury City Council meeting to remove the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman as its municipal investigator. All Sudbury city councillors except Mayor Marianne Matichuk voted in favour of the bill that will reduce their accountability and transparency. We encourage residents in Sudbury to contact the following councillors and to make this an election issue in the next municipal election.

Those who voted against accountability of city council;

Ward 1 – Joe Cimino
Tel: (705) 522-0404
Fax: (705) 522-3920
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 2 – Jacques Barbeau
Tel: (705) 692-5966
Fax: (705) 596-2120
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 3 – Claude Berthiaume
Tel.: (705) 855-9433
Fax. : (705) 855-7966
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 4 – Evelyn Dutrisac
Tel: (705) 855-3929
Fax: (705) 673-1651
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 5 – Ron Dupuis
Tel. : (705) 897-6410
Fax. : (705) 897-7660
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 6 – André Rivest
Tel: (705) 969-1597
Fax: (705) 969-0241
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 7 – Dave Kilgour
Tel. : (705) 665-6594
Fax. : (705) 858-1512
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 8 – Fabio Belli
Tel: (705) 586-3634
Fax: (705) 586-3635
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 9 – Doug Craig
Tel. : (705) 523-1987
Fax. : (705) 523-1857
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 10 – Frances Caldarelli
Tel. : (705) 671-2224
Fax. : (705) 671-7176
e-mail: [email protected]

Ward 11 – Terry Kett
Tel: (705) 566-3755
Fax. : (705) 673-1651
E-mail: [email protected]

Ward 12 – Joscelyne Landry
Tel: (705) 674-1212
Fax: (705) 669-0886
e-mail: [email protected]


Join us at our Second Annual Liberal Convention Oversight Rally

Because we need the support of every political party to ensure oversight of the CAS, Long-Term Care, Hospitals etc., we are holding our Second Annual Liberal Convention Rally this Saturday January 26 at 9:00 AM. Last years rally outside the Liberal Convention was a huge success and began to draw support from within their party and it’s members. This years Liberal Convention is being held in Toronto and we need your help to continue pressuring elected officials and the people who run the Liberal party to support our Ombudsman Bills when they get reintroduced.

Facebook Event Page
Date: Jan 26
Time: 9:00 AM
Where: Maple Leaf Gardens, 60 Carlton Street, Toronto


View Larger Map


The fight for public information continues

Citizens, public-interest groups and newspaper editorial boards pushed hard in the first decade of this new century for greater government accountability on spending; their slogan: “It is not your money. It is our money.”

Now, public demand has widened to a call for greater transparency and less secrecy. If there is a new slogan, it may be this: “It’s not your information. It is our information.”

But governments at all levels, as well as far too many publicly funded institutions, default to secrecy, denying the public not only the reasons for policy, program or spending decisions but in many cases what those decisions are to begin with. Despite the efforts of two of Ontario’s senior public servants — ombudsman André Marin and information and privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian — to increase transparency and openness, too many public bodies just don’t get it.

Hamilton was cited by Marin for two secret meetings in violation of the Municipal Act in 2012: one to privately debate dissolving the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc. board and another to debate McMaster University’s proposal for a downtown health campus. Last January, Hamilton council went into secret session to discuss a report criticizing them for going too often behind closed doors.

Marin didn’t look into that meeting. But he did say in October that he believed the city had “turned a corner” on transparency at meetings and in relations with his office. It would be good if Hamilton council — and school boards and the police services board — began to default to openness, forcing themselves to justify, case by case, any secret meeting.

The other aspect of transparency and openness that raised its profile in 2012, and will undoubtedly do so again this year, is access to public information. Cavoukian made the point clearly when she said: “Elected officials and government employees do not ‘own’ the information now held in government filing cabinets and databases. It belongs to the people of Ontario.”

Government secrecy showed itself in Ottawa’s reluctance to disclose documents around the controversial F-35 purchase and in the McGuinty government’s halting release of information on the cancellation of two gas-powered electricity-generating plans.

Citizens and media regularly encounter public bodies that fight the spirit of the law that requires disclosure, or mount as many roadblocks as possible. The Spectator’s Steve Buist reported in September that “High fees, long delays, stifling bureaucracy, puzzling rules and archaic technologies are barriers to the free flow of important information.”

For one example, it took more than five years, multiple Freedom of Information requests and various appeals for The Spectator to obtain documents about salary, expenses and perks for top executives at McMaster University — a publicly funded institution whose mandate and raison d’être includes the free flow of information

The fight for greater openness, transparency and disclosure in governments and public institutions will no doubt continue. The hope is that those bodies will recognize there is a “new normal” at play and it is quite the opposite of past public attitudes around secrecy.

Robert Howard


Sudbury No. 5 on ombudsman’s list

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin speaks with reporters outside council chambers in this Dec. 11 file photo. Sudbury’s spat with Marin made No. 5 on Marin’s list of Top 10 ombudsman stories for 2012. File photo.

Ontario Ombudsman André Marin speaks with reporters outside council chambers in this Dec. 11 file photo. Sudbury’s spat with Marin made No. 5 on Marin’s list of Top 10 ombudsman stories for 2012. File photo.

Dispute with city council makes Marin’s top 10 stories list

By: Darren MacDonald – Sudbury Northern Life
Sudbury’s spat with Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin made No. 5 on Marin’s list of Top 10 ombudsman stories for 2012.
And fittingly, the ombudsman released his Top 10 list on Twitter, the social media website that caused resentment among some city councillors in 2012.
His No. 5 ranking was related to Marin’s first annual report on enforcing open meeting rules among municipal councils.
“Sudbury singled out as the least cooperative since 1975,” Marin tweeted. “Hoping 4 a better 2013.”
Marin’s investigators came to Sudbury last spring to look into closed-door meetings held in late 2011. While clearing councillors of wrongdoing, the ombudsman criticized them for not co-operating with his office. Ten councillors refused to be interviewed because they weren’t allowed to have the city solicitor present while they’re being questioned.
Some councillors also took offence to Marin’s tweets about the Sudbury investigation.
“Long time since Elton John,” Marin tweeted in June.
It was in reference to 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.
Council was also cleared in that investigation, but Marin was critical of them and said they came dangerously close to breaking the rules. He threatened to fine or jail them if they didn’t co-operate with future investigations.
Marin addressed city councillors earlier this month in an unsuccessful attempt to clear the air. He fended off accusations that he was embarrassing councillors with his tweets.
When challenged by Ward 11 Coun. Terry Kett about the Elton John tweet, Marin said it was not meant to be insulting.
“Can you articulate how you find it disparaging?” he asked Kett.
“You are saying that something bad happened with Elton John, right?” Kett responded.
“No,” Marin said. “I’m saying that Elton John was the last investigation conducted here. You were cleared in Elton John. Council was cleared. How does that imply anything else?”
An exasperated Kett threw up his hands and said, “OK. I give up. There’s no use.”
Other events to make Marin’s Top 10 list include: national and international recognition of his office by his peers; the successful training program his office offers that is considered “the gold standard training” for watchdogs; a 27-per-cent increase in the number of complaints his office received in 2012; the investigation of post-traumatic stress disorder among OPP officers; and, at No. 1, is the commitment by outgoing Premier Dalton McGuinty to expand the jurisdiction of the office to include the MUSH sector – hospitals, school boards and other public sector boards.
See the whole list and a link to a video on the ombudsman’s year in review at www.ombudsman.on.ca.


Ontario Ombudsman – Top 10 of 2012

HEALTH TOP OF MIND FOR ONTARIANS IN 2012

In 2012, Ontarians were focused on health – health care, Ombudsman oversight of hospitals and long-term care homes, the mental health of our police forces, and healthy and transparent municipal democracies. Our office saw this reflected in the complaints we received, and the investigations we launched – including the most recent, into the province’s services for adults with developmental disabilities – as well as in the comments from our followers on Twitter and Facebook.
Take a look at 10 of the most significant developments of 2012. Thanks to our social media followers for helping out with the list.

Top 10 for 2012

1.    MUSH closer “…it’s not a question of if, it’s a question of when” – Premier Dalton McGuinty, June 2012
Every year, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office receives hundreds of complaints from the MUSH sector – which includes Municipalities, Universities, School Boards, Hospitals, long-term care homes, children’s aid societies and police – and every year, Ombudsman André Marin is forced to turn them away. But this past spring, things took a turn for the better when Premier Dalton McGuinty spoke to the Ombudsman on the expansion of the Ombudsman’s powers. The Ombudsman has said he would like to see Children’s Aid Societies, hospitals and long-term care homes as the first ‘letters’ to be brought under his jurisdiction.

2.    Police oversight strengthened The Ombudsman’s 2011 report on oversight of the Ontario Special Investigations Unit, “Oversight Undermined” – as well as his 2008 report on the same issue, “Oversight Unseen” – recommended that, among other things, lawyers for police officers should not represent more than one witness officer on the same case. In late November, the Law Society of Upper Canada put lawyers on notice that it questioned how officers, who are supposed to be segregated in these cases, could ever be jointly represented – proving the Ombudsman’s 2008 and 2011 recommendations, which called for a ‘legislative prohibition against legal counsel representing police officers involved in the same incident under investigation by the SIU’, prescient indeed.

3.    Public call for better support for OPP operational stress injuries In late October, the Ombudsman released a report calling on the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to take concrete action to support police officers across the province who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, risk of suicide and other forms of operational stress injuries. His report, In the Line of Duty ’ – and his finding that the chances of an OPP officer committing suicide were higher than the chances of being killed on-duty by an unknown assailant – made headlines across the country and even caught the attention of police organizations as far away as the United States and Germany. In contrast to the strong public support that greeted the report, the OPP was disappointingly fence-sitting and defensive in their response. The Ombudsman will vigorously monitor to ensure that there is proper leadership in the senior echelons of the OPP dealing with the mental health of its officers, and has asked the OPP and the Ministry of Community Safety and Correctional Services to report back on January 24, 2013 to update him on their progress.

4.    New investigations In 2012, the Ombudsman announced two new investigations – one in March, into the province’s monitoring of hypoglycemic drivers, and another in late November, into the province’s services for adults with developmental disabilities in crisis. In both cases, complaints began flooding in after the announcement, and there was a strong social media response with comments indicating people feel these investigations were desperately needed. The Special Ombudsman Response Team is currently completing fieldwork for both investigations.

5.    Breaking a few eggs for a good OMLET Municipal councils were in the spotlight in October when the Ombudsman released his first-ever annual report on investigations into closed municipal meetings. The Ombudsman found that some municipalities are still ‘shockingly secretive, suspicious and resentful of the very idea they can be investigated’. One such municipality, the City of Greater Sudbury, had the dubious distinction of being the least-co-operative municipality in the history of the office’s municipal dealings. However, their invitation for a public presentation by the Ombudsman in early December indicates they may be open to turning a corner.

6.    Access to justice: Complaints up by almost 30% In his 2011-2012 Annual Report, the Ombudsman called on the government of Ontario to protect the public interest by ensuring citizens continue to have the opportunity to complain to his office – as more than 18,500 of them did in 2011-2012. The office saw a 27% increase in complaints and inquiries, and through the dedicated efforts of Ombudsman staff, has been able to help Ontarians navigate the government bureaucracy. The office has also flagged systemic issues before they mushroomed, and served as a catalyst for better communication, improved policies, and more common sense and compassion in public administration.

7.    Tech and innovation at OO This year saw a number of firsts for the Ombudsman’s office – including the first #OOLive Twitter chat, the first remote live webcast of an Ombudsman presentation, and the first Skype presentations – to attendees of a conference in Australia! The Ombudsman’s strong social media presence – including on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – helped ramp up public engagement and reach more people than ever before – in fact, the Ombudsman is on track to reach 10,000 Twitter followers by the new year. The Ombudsman continues to call on government to embrace openness and transparency, and use technology to improve service and interaction with the public – as well as meet with other ombudsman organizations to coach them on the benefits of social media.

8.    Sharpening teeth worldwide Created in 2007 to share the Ontario Ombudsman’s investigative expertise, the advanced Sharpening Your Teeth training course offers ombudsmen and investigative staff from around the world the opportunity to learn more about how the office conducts its large-scale, systemic investigations – on a complete cost-recovery basis. In the past five years, it’s been delivered in dozens of countries on six continents. This past November, the Ombudsman offered the course at the International Ombudsman Institute’s 10th World Conference in New Zealand, and it was also delivered in Montreal, Iowa, and Curacao, and will be presented to a sold-out crowd in Toronto in January.

9.    For a good cause Ontario Ombudsman and staff participated in the office’s first-ever Movember fundraiser in November, bringing in more than $6,100 for research and awareness about prostate cancer and male mental health initiatives. The team garnered honourable mentions in the Ottawa Citizen and on the CityTV website. And in September, the Ombudsman Watchdogs ran in the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation’s Run for the Cure, raising $4,877 to support breast cancer research, and the office raised more than $5,400 to support United Way Toronto and Federated Health Charities.

10.     Ombudsman honoured for public service This year, the Ombudsman’s commitment to public service was recognized in Canada and internationally. He was inducted into the University of Ottawa Faculty of Common Law’s Common Law Honour Society; received the Canadian Bar Association’s John Tait Award of Excellence; was presented with the Ontario Bar Association’s 2012 Award for Distinguished Service; and was honoured for police oversight work by the U.S.-based National Association for Civilian Oversight of Law Enforcement.
“I was pleased to learn that the University of Ottawa has inducted you into its Common Law Honour Society – the second honour you have received from your alma mater, having been awarded the Ordre du mérite from the University’s civil law section in 2011. Your dedication to serving the interests of the Canadian public has also been recognized by the Canadian Bar Association in being named the 2012 recipient of the John Tait Award of Excellence in the area of public law. Your tenacity and commitment are the gauge for exemplary professional service.” -The Honourable Rob Nicholson, Minister of Justice and Attorney General of Canada

 


Ontario Ombudsman to speak to Sudbury Council tonight

Archived video coverage of Ontario Ombudsman, Andrea Marin, speaking to Greater Sudbury City Council was provided by the Northern Life

 

Source: http://www.northernlife.ca/news/localNews/2012/12/11-ombudsman-sudbury-council.aspx


Matichuk, Marin differ over training session

Ombudsman tweet contradicts mayor’s statement

By:Darren MacDonald – Sudbury Northern Life

While not exactly a war of words, a disagreement has emerged over exactly what advice Greater Sudbury Mayor Marianne Matichuk received recently from Ontario Ombudsman André Marin’s office.
Matichuk contacted Marin’s office to get advice about whether councillors should hold a closed-door training session focusing on finding ways to work better together. At the Nov. 20 city council meeting, Matichuk said she was told not to hold the meeting in private.
“I was talking to the ombudsman today – the ombudsman’s office – and the ombudsman advised that we not do any part of this in a closed session,” she said. “And the reason is that there is a very high risk that you can talk about business and he said the simple fact is there will be an investigation, period. He will go over this when he comes here.”
But on his Twitter account Nov. 23, Marin, who will address city councillors Dec. 11, seemed to contradict the mayor.
“Training sessions, such as the one recently proposed in #Sudbury, can b (sic) properly held behind closed doors,” Marin tweeted. “We never suggested that there would b (sic) an investig (sic) into a properly held training session in #Sudbury that doesn’t veer into city business.”
Under the Municipal Act, local councils can go behind closed doors – or ‘in camera’ – for education and training meetings. That was a point made by Ward 12 Coun. Joscelyne Landry-Altmann, who, in September, proposed the meeting as a way to improve council’s working relationship.
However, council voted in October to hold the meeting in public, to ensure they wouldn’t face another investigation by Marin’s office, which has repeatedly investigated closed-door meetings in Sudbury over the last few years.
While exonerating them each time, Marin’s reports have embarrassed councillors. The most recent, released in the summer, cited Sudbury as the least-co-operative city council he has ever dealt with.
Only three councillors – Matichuk, Ward 3 Coun. Claude Berthiaume and Ward 9 Coun. Doug Craig – co-operated with Marin’s office.
The others insisted they should be allowed to have a city lawyer with them during the interview. One councillor even cited the ombudsman’s used of Twitter as a justification for not co-operating. Marin threatened to fine or even jail them if they failed to co-operate with future investigations.
On Nov. 23, Matichuk stood by her comments, although she said she didn’t want to get into a “he said, she said” battle with Marin.
“What I said in public was there would be an investigation, because it would be complaint-driver, right?” Matichuk said. “So I can tell you right now that a minimum of eight people have told me directly that, had that meeting been held (in private), they were going to complain.”
When she called Marin’s office, the person she spoke to told her an investigation would be likely, because the meeting Sudbury was planning was similar to a session the ombudsman investigated in Midland, Ont.
In that case, councillors were also having a tough time getting along, and held a training session in camera to try and work things out. However, city business was discussed in the course of the meeting, something not allowed under the Municipal Act. The ombudsman investigated and ruled Midland council broke the rules.
“Citing the Midland case, which was for teambuilding, and this is exactly what they said, ‘we are recommending that municipalities do not do that, based on the Midland case,’” Matichuk said.
“That’s what I was told. I asked them if they would look at what the proposal was, and she said we can’t give you a ruling on that, in case we get a complaint and then we have to investigate.
“So there’s been a little bit of a disconnect. And perhaps I should have clarified that in council, but I can tell you it’s out there already. People have said if there was a meeting, they were going to complain.”
Matichuk said she’s frustrated because towns and cities are advised in the Sunshine Law – the term for the section of the Municipal Act that covers closed-door meetings – to consult with the ombudsman if they’re not sure when to go in camera.
“I don’t understand them saying that, when they said they didn’t even want to look at the information,” she said. “It also says in the Sunshine Law that should we have any questions about open meetings, we should contact them.
“Sometimes tweets are open to interpretation, so I’m going to give him a call and find out what the scoop is. Because we’re trying to work with them. And I rely on the fact they’re going to give me information. We have to work together.”
Regardless of what Marin tweeted, Matichuk said holding the meeting in private would be too risky.
“If we were to start talking about things like, ‘You ticked me off that time because you said this and this,’ and it had to do with something about city business, you’re right in that,” she said. “How do you avoid that?”
Calls to Marin’s office seeking comment on exactly what he meant by the tweets were returned by an email message from Linda Williamson, the ombudsman’s director of communications.
“Thanks for your question, however, the ombudsman has no further comment beyond what he tweeted today,” Williamson wrote.
Matichuk said she was going to call Marin herself to try and determine exactly what he meant. But in any case, Matichuk said she had no problems holding the training meeting in public. 
“If you want to talk about business, you do it out in public,” she said. “I’ll tell you right now, I have no problem going out in public with this. If somebody wants to say something to me, say it to my face.”

Residents, ombudsman question secrecy

While Ontario ombudsman Andre Marin’s report on closed-session meeting investigations may not have dealt with any of York Region’s municipalities, concerns have been raised locally.

In Markham, some residents have raised questions about the in-camera meetings held regarding the proposed NHL-size arena in the municipality.

The city has been too liberal in its use of closed-session meetings on the issue, Markham resident Karen Rea said.

She’s planning to file an investigation request into the meetings, despite city staff telling her the complaint will cost the municipality $160 per hour spent on it.

“There have been too many closed-door meetings on this,” Ms Rea said, adding there are no property acquisition or personnel issues to discuss that would require such meetings.

“There’s nothing there that should be secret.”

Believing something smelled rotten in Georgina after Mayor Rob Grossi launched a publicly funded defamation lawsuit against former leisure services director John McLean, resident Kristina Toomey launched a two-pronged investigation into the closed meetings, procedure and code of conduct issues surrounding the case.

Four months later, investigators with Amberley Gavel Ltd. reported the town erred, by making “a substantive decision in closed session”, one that was “couched in a direction to staff” and therefore breached the Municipal Act during the Nov. 21 committee of the whole meeting.

The Amberley Gavel report amounted to “a slap on the wrist” and little else, Ms Toomey said, adding she was disappointed there weren’t any penalties that could have been applied as a result of the findings. The fact council essentially decided when and how it made the report public, ultimately deciding to do so during a Monday morning meeting, was also disheartening, she continued.

The lack of penalties for municipalities that violate Ontario’s so-called sunshine laws, which are intend to ensure municipalities do business in an open and transparent manner, is one of the issues to which Mr. Marin drew attention in his report.

Rather than penalties, which exist in a number of American jurisdictions, ranging in severity from fines to jail time, Ontario municipalities in breach of the act are dealt with through education.

The problem is, while a number of the 128 closed-session complaints investigated by his office last year were the result of ignorance on the part of staff or elected officials, others were an attempt to knowingly circumvent rules.

In any event, Mr. Marin intends to send educational cards on closed-door meetings to all 444 Ontario municipalities, not just the 191 where he serves as investigator.

“The last line on the card is: ‘When in doubt, open the meeting’,” he said during Tuesday’s media conference. “Unfortunately, for too many councils, it’s not that simple, because, even in the fifth year of the sunshine law, too many municipalities are playing by their own rules, closing meetings illegally, voting behind closed doors — you name it.”

Mr. Marin also suggested all municipalities should keep audio or video records of their closed session meetings in the event of a future investigation. Some are keeping extensive records of what goes on in camera, he said, but, in others, investigators have only the recollections of council members and staff by which to go.

Another issue highlighted by Mr. Marin was the patchwork approach applied to the problem, as each municipality is free to appoint any person or corporation as its closed-session meeting investigator under the legislation.

There should be a single body overseeing the such investigations, he said, be it the ombudsman’s office or another body.

“I can’t think of any other example in Ontario where a municipality can opt out of a mechanism of law enforcement,” he said. “Here, municipalities can opt out and create their own investigation regime to deal with complaints. It’s bizarre.”

Beyond that, some municipalities also charge residents to investigate their complaints, which results in a chilling effect, Mr. Marin said, so some violations go unreported as a result. The ombudsman’s office has no fee for municipalities and complainants, he added.

Through Local Authority Services (LAS), which is itself a subsidiary of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, Amberley Gavel is the closed-session investigator for all nine of the region’s municipalities and York Region. Amberley Gavel is on retainer for 128 Ontario municipalities through LAS, explained LAS president Nancy Plumridge, adding the firm also provides a slew of educational resources in addition to its role as an investigator.

“First of all, on the fee, I don’t think anything in life is free, so the ombudsman likely has costs, but they’re buried,” she said. “All of the costs with Amberley Gavel are open and transparent.”

That’s really what everyone should be striving for, said Nigel Bellchamber, one of Amberley Gavels’ two founding principals. The fact of the matter is, the ombudsman is hardly free, he said, explaining the difference is Mr. Marin’s office is funded through provincial tax money, rather than municipal coffers.

Ultimately, both Ms Plumridge and Mr. Bellchamber agree on the importance of education and everyone involved in municipal government is trying to do the right thing. They also agree the legislation is achieving what it was meant to do.

“There’s also the threat of political embarrassment by being found in breach of the Municipal Act and politicians are always protective of their reputations,” Mr. Bellchamber said. “If they get a report back saying they breached the act, it’s news.”

On the topic of fees, LAS generally discourages municipalities from charging complainants for launching an investigation, but some do. Newmarket, for example, charges people requesting a closed-session meeting investigation $100.  

On the other hand, Ms Toomey didn’t have to pay a fee to instigate an investigation into Georgina’s closed door meeting, but she said the process involved a lot of paperwork and was time consuming. However, she was pleased once her complaint made it to the investigators, she said.

“I was happy with the process once Amberley Gavel got a hold of it,” Ms Toomey said. “Georgina was found to be at fault, as per the LAS report, but it is interesting how there is no punishment for any municipality that breaks the law set out by the Municipal Act, not even a fine imposed on the members of council.

“All they get is a little hand slap and carry on with their day-to-day duties.”

In Markham, Ms Rea just wants to feel confident the investigation will be objective.

“I’m hopeful it will be an arms-length investigation and they won’t say ‘We do business with the town, so we’ll give them the answer they want’,” she said.
— with files from Heidi Riedner

 

Source Article from http://www.yorkregion.com/news/article/1530177–residents-ombudsman-question-secrecy


Sudbury keeps un-cooperative rep from Ombudsman

The Ontario Ombudsman`s office released its annual report Tuesday, and Sudbury didn’t escape mention.
Just a couple months ago Andre Marin, Ontario Ombudsman, wrote in a report on closed door meetings that Sudbury “now has the dubious distinction of being the least co-operative body we have ever investigated”

That has not changed in Marin’s opinion.

“In the Sudbury case, despite being repeatedly advised about this practice, only three of the 13 council members and the city clerk agreed to be interviewed; the rest refused to proceed without the city’s solicitor.It was the worst failure to co-operate I have seen.” Marin writes in his annual report.

 

Ward 3 councillor Claude Berthiaume and ward 9 councillor Doug Craig are the only two councillors who spoke with the Ombudsman’s investigators.

 

He name the City of Hamilton and City of London as being uncooperative as well, saying councillors in those cities have been publicly critical of the investigation process.

 

Sudbury gets another mention when Marin addresses his use of Twitter.

He said the medium is useful to share bit of information that wouldn’t justify a press release.

 

The reception has been very positive he says, “except for a few councillors like those for the City of Greater Sudbury, who were outraged when I tweeted about our investigation there in June

2012. One councillor even cited my tweets as a reason for refusing to be interviewed.” Marin wrote in his annual report.

 

He encourage municipal officials to embrace social media as “part of the modern media landscape. Social media are here to stay until even more innovative methods of communication

take their place, and I remain committed to using them.”

 

The annual report has a brief recap of the investigation that took place in Sudbury.

 

“The Ombudsman found that the discussions at these meetings did fit within the cited exception. However, he spoke out strongly about the lack of co-operation our Office received during the investigation. Every member of council asked to have a lawyer from the city with them during our interviews. When they were advised that our process did not allow this, 10 refused to be interviewed – only the Mayor, two councillors and the Clerk participated. The Ombudsman advised council that if faced with refusal to co-operate in future, he would consider using his Office’s powers under the Ombudsman Act to require witnesses to participate, or face penalties including fines or potential imprisonment.” From Marin’s annual report.

 

Marin is holding a teleconference this afternoon to go over the annual report. A PDF of Marin’s report can be found below.

[email protected]
twitter: @sebastienperth

Omlet Ar en Final

Source Article from http://www.thesudburystar.com/2012/10/30/sudbury-keeps-un-cooperative-rep-from-ombudsman


Some Ontario municipalities still “shockingly secretive,” Ombudsman finds

Some Ontario municipalities still “shockingly secretive,” Ombudsman finds
Date: 2012-10-30

 

First annual report on “Sunshine Law” investigations of closed meetings

(TORONTO – October 30, 2012) Ontario municipal councillors should hold fewer closed meetings, record them electronically and be more mindful of public concerns when they gather outside of council chambers, Ontario Ombudsman André Marin says in his latest report, released today.

The Ombudsman investigates public complaints about closed meetings in municipalities across the province.  Today’s report reviews highlights of the 128 complaints received and reviewed by his office’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) from April 1, 2011 to August 31, 2012.  It also reflects on the state of the “Sunshine Law” in Ontario – the public complaints system that came into effect in 2008.
Under the Municipal Act, 2001, all meetings of councils, committees and local boards must be open to the public unless they meet certain narrow requirements.  Although most municipalities tend to follow the rules, there is still a “marked disparity” across the province in how councils operate, Mr. Marin says.
“Some are shockingly secretive, suspicious and resentful of the very idea they can be investigated,” he writes. “And many are well-intentioned but baffled by the complexity of the law.”
The Ombudsman is the investigator for 191 of Ontario’s 444 municipalities (the rest have appointed other investigators), although his report will be distributed to all 444 to encourage consistent practices.  In the period covered by this report, he and OMLET found 45 violations of the Sunshine Law, ranging from procedural errors to blatant flouting of the rules – such as councils voting illegally behind closed doors and failing to keep records.
Unlike in some U.S. jurisdictions, there are no penalties for municipalities that violate the law. The Ombudsman recommends ways they can do better and reports publicly on his findings. “The focus is not on laying blame but on improving local government transparency by ensuring the law is being upheld and recommending best practices,” Mr. Marin says in the report.
“My overall impression, midway through our fifth year of doing this work, is frankly mixed,” he writes. “There is still a great deal of work and education to be done, and I hope this report helps meet that need.”
Complaints were made in several cities about informal gatherings of councillors – at restaurants, for example – that raised public suspicion.  While it is “healthy” for municipal officials to socialize, the report says, councillors “must tread carefully” and make sure they don’t discuss official business.
The report also clearly sets out the Ombudsman’s investigative process, noting that in some recent cases, councillors refused to co-operate with investigations, demanded to be represented by a lawyer, objected to the fact that complainants’ names are kept confidential, and even questioned the Ombudsman’s use of social media.
“It is completely unnecessary for witnesses to be represented by lawyers in Ombudsman investigations,” Mr. Marin states. He also warns that for councils that have chosen his office as their closed meeting investigator, failing to co-operate in an Ombudsman investigation is a provincial offence.
“As Ombudsman, my interest is the public interest – ensuring that municipalities respect the law. Municipal officials must understand that the investigation of public complaints about their meetings is part of the responsibility that comes with their positions in local government.
Mr. Marin’s report notes that OMLET investigations are efficient and resolved as quickly as possible; 50% were resolved within two months.  But he argues that the process could move even faster if municipal councils simply kept good records of their closed meetings – preferably audio or video recordings.
“This would assist immeasurably in ensuring officials do not stray from the legal requirements once they retreat behind closed doors, and would provide a clear, accessible record for investigators to review,” he says, noting that several U.S. jurisdictions require such recordings by law.
Along with the report, the Ombudsman is sending pocket-sized cards to all municipal councillors and clerks throughout Ontario that include “tips for closing meetings.” The cards – reproduced on the inside cover of the report – can be used during meetings as a quick reference guide to the Sunshine Law, the Ombudsman says.
OMLET has handled 313 cases since the Sunshine Law took effect in January 2008.  The Ombudsman and OMLET staff have also conducted training and information sessions for several councils on the open meeting requirements. 

 

Aussi disponible en français

 

 

For further information, please contact: 

Linda Williamson
Director of Communications
416-586-3426
[email protected]

 

Patricia Tomasi
Communications Officer
416-586-3402
[email protected]

Ashley Bursey
Communications Officer
416-586-3521
[email protected]

Elena Yunusov
Communications Officer
416-586-3525
[email protected]

RELATED RESOURCES

RESSOURCES CONNEXES
Press release(PDF)
2011-2012 – OMLET Annual Report

Source Article from http://www.ombudsman.on.ca/Newsroom/Press-Release/2012/Some-Ontario-municipalities-still–shockingly-secr.aspx?feed=85ba392a-2420-45c1-92f2-001b4e426681