London City Council has found itself under investigation by the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office once again.
According to a City Hall release, the Ombudsman’s Office is currently investigating two complaints regarding the following closed meetings held by the Municipal Council:
- A complaint alleging that the City held a closed meeting in May 2016 to discuss the appointment of the Integrity Commissioner, which did not comply with the open meeting rules in the Municipal Act, 2001.
- A complaint alleging that the City held a closed meeting on June 23, 2016 to discuss the Integrity Commissioner’s report, in violation of the open meeting requirements.
Councillor Jesse Helmer insists that council has done nothing wrong and that the public should wait until the investigation has concluded to form an opinion.
“My belief is that we, in this case, haven’t done anything wrong at all and I think that the Ombudsman’s report will probably reflect that,” he said. “It’s a bit concerning to me if folks are taking that away from the fact that there’s been some complaints. The Ombudsman is investigating complaints which is totally appropriate, the Ombudsman hasn’t made any findings at this point.”
“I’m glad that members of the community, if they think that something’s amiss or they think that we’ve done something wrong, that they’ve got an avenue to have that looked into that’s independent of council and has those powers.”
The Ombudsman’s Office is independent of government and political parties, and its mandate is to ensure government accountability through effective oversight of the administration of government services.
These investigations follow an earlier probe into a Council meeting last summer during the inside worker’s strike.
In her final report, Ontario’s Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay said her Office launched an investigation after receiving two complaints that council held an illegal closed meeting on June 10th, 2015.
One complainant alleged City Hall was locked ahead of the council meeting and that, when security staff began to let people in, only ten people were allowed to enter the public gallery at a time.
A second complainant reported that while waiting on the main floor of the building to be let up to the public gallery, a member of the security team announced that the meeting was ‘cancelled’ and everyone had to leave the building.
The report indicated the Ombudsman’s Office dispatched a team of investigators and reviewed the city’s procedure by-law, and the city’s video recording of the meeting. Investigators also interviewed the complainants, Mayor Matt Brown, the Clerk, City Manager, and five employees of a private company retained by the City to provide security, among others.
“Despite the best intentions of the Mayor and council, security staff of the City of London failed to ensure that the doors to city hall were unlocked during an open council meeting, effectively preventing members of the public from freely entering to observe government in process,” the report concluded.
“Consequently, large portions of the June 10 council meeting were closed to the public contrary to the Municipal Act.”
The report is not legally binding but made three recommendations to city council:
1) All members of council should be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligation to ensure that the city complies with its responsibilities under the Municipal Act.
2) The City should ensure that the public has unimpeded access to council chambers in order to observe all open council and committee meetings.
3) The City should ensure that a formal written policy is created and implemented that sets out security protocols during meetings.
The previous Council were no strangers to the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office.
In October 2013, former Ombudsman Andre Marin released the findings of his report into the infamous Billy T’s lunch and concluded former Mayor Joe Fontana and six city councillors had violated the Municipal Act.
In 2012, Marin investigated similar complaints about a lunch at the Grand Harmony Buffet but found no violation.
With files from Tom Fraser