Ontario Ombudsman André Marin’s report into secrecy in municipal government contains good news and bad news. The good news? Citizens across the province are increasingly upset about local governments that conduct democratic business behind closed doors, and they are complaining in growing numbers. The bad news? Many municipal governments are still flouting the province’s open meeting law – without penalty.
In 2008, Ontario’s Municipal Act was amended, to give the ombudsman power to investigate complaints of unnecessary and undemocratic secrecy on the part of the province’s municipal governments. The new rules on openness are known as the Sunshine Law. This past year, Mr. Marin’s team investigated 96 council meetings, finding that 19 of them were illegal. That figure likely underestimates the problem, since municipalities can pick a body other than the ombudsman to oversee their Sunshine Law obligations – a practice known as oversight shopping. Mr. Marin also found some meetings that appeared to violate the spirit of the law, such as the time city councillors in London, Ont., met in private at a local restaurant just before a budget vote. Sixty citizens complained.
Mr. Marin recommends that the province take four steps to ensure that the sun really does shine in. First, end oversight shopping. This year, Sudbury council voted to fire the ombudsman after he was critical of their behaviour. Fewer than half of the province’s municipalities have chosen to be overseen by the ombudsman. Since when do we allow an accused to fire the judge?
Mr. Marin also recommends that lawbreakers be punished – the law currently contains no sanctions – that all meetings be recorded, and that any meeting found to have been conducted illegally have its proceedings invalidated. All excellent ideas. And we can’t imagine why any of the three parties at Queen’s Park wouldn’t agree. Pass these reforms, pronto. – Globe And Mail December 27, 2013
So this report from the Ontario Ombudsman released back on December 11, 2013. I wonder if the City of Thunder Bay has chosen to be overseen by the ombudsman. Does anyone check to see if our City Council is following the Sunshine Law?
If Thunder Bay City Hall is policing itself on this matter, then I doubt City Hall will ever find it is doing anything wrong. The fox guarding the hen house. Great if your the fox.
Also, if the in-camera meetings are secret, then how does the public find out what was discussed so that a complaint to the ombudsman can be made? The answer is that the public really can’t. The public can’t complain about something it doesn’t don’t know is happening. And that is the whole point is it not?
With council having to meet almost weekly behind closed doors, city clerk John Hannam is looking to see if there are ways to improve that record and bring more reports to public sessions.
“So we can support public confidence and business being done in an open manner,” Hannam said.
Council goes behind closed doors for property, personnel and legal matters.
While the last two aren’t likely to be public, Hannam said there might be ways under the Municipal Act to make it so council won’t have to go in camera on every property matter. – Tbnewswatch December 27, 2013
John Hannam, City Clerk forever, NOW thinks there might be a way? Not four years ago when it was brought up during that election campaign? Not ten years ago? Only NOW he’ll look into it? Maybe?
I believe Mr. Hannam, the man is not a big supporter of more transparency in Municipal government. I wonder why? What is everyone hiding?
You would think the mayor could make it happen if he wanted. He says he does want to make it happen. Has for his entire four years as mayor.
Who really runs this city? I believe it is City Administration. This stuff only proves my point.