Acting Ontario ombudsman Barbara Finlay wants all municipalities to have their closed meetings under the oversight of her office

​Excerpt of  ​article below followed by Ontario Ombudsman info.


After a decade in which the Ontario Ombudsman had to turn away more than 11,000 complaints about municipalities, things are about to change with sweeping new powers for the provincial watchdog. What won’t change is the office’s inability to investigate closed-door meetings in most big cities. “That is the problem with the patchwork system; municipalities can hire their own private investigator,” acting ombudsman Barbara Finlay said Wednesday. She announced her finding that 16 “illegal” closed meetings were conducted by municipalities between September 2014 and August 2015 — plus seven more since then. But that figure doesn’t include any complaints of that kind from most of Ontario’s large cities.


full article here


end of Toronto Star article Excerpt


post continues with Ontario Ombudsman info. (TORONTO – December 16, 2015) A new era of local government accountability begins January 1 when the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman takes on full oversight of municipalities, Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay said today in releasing the Office’s latest report. “We look forward to the chance, at long last, to help people resolve their issues with the governments that are literally closest to home,” Ms. Finlay says in the 2014-2015 report  on the work of the Ombudsman’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET). Since 2008, the Ombudsman’s Office has investigated complaints about municipal council meetings that are closed to the public, and promoted local transparency through its reports and publications. “We have been encouraged by the response of local councils to our recent findings and recommendations,” Ms. Finlay said. “I am optimistic that this constructive spirit will continue as we start reviewing broader municipal complaints for the first time in the new year.” Today’s report notes that OMLET has handled some 800 complaints about closed meetings in the past eight years, with this past year being particularly active. Between September 1, 2014 and August 31, 2015, it reviewed 85 meetings held by 61 municipalities. The Ombudsman deemed 16 meetings “illegal” – that is, they did not meet the open meeting requirements of the *Municipal Act, 2001* – and found 40 procedural violations. And in another 15 reports issued since August, OMLET reviewed 30 meetings in 13 additional municipalities, with the Ombudsman finding seven illegal meetings and 23 procedural violations. Although most violations are the result of confusion or ignorance of the rules, the report notes some concerning trends – such as the use of emails to do council business away from public view. In two such cases, council for the Township of Leeds and the Thousand Islands technically did not violate the law, but the Ombudsman warned members that their emails were “inconsistent with [the Act’s] underlying principles of openness and transparency.” Still, the municipalities that dealt with the Office since 2008 have shown progress in embracing transparency and Ombudsman oversight, Ms. Finlay says in the report: “We have learned a great deal along the way, and worked productively and co-operatively with municipal officials across the province who appreciate that our common goal is to serve the public interest.” On January 1, 2016, the Ombudsman’s Office will be able to take complaints about the full spectrum of municipal administration, services and officials, as provisions of the*Public Sector and MPP Accountability and Transparency Act, 2014* (also known as Bill 8) take effect. Ms. Finlay emphasized that the Office will use its new role to encourage municipalities to strengthen accountability mechanisms at the local level.

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