The annual report of the Ontario Ombudsman’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team (OMLET) lists complaints received about closed meetings, and also violations found and best practices suggested.
An excerpt from the report of October 2011 is in the table below:
MUNICIPALITY Complaints received Violations found Best practices suggested
TSBP 3 6 0
Town of Midland 2 7 2
TOTAL 128 45 34
Six of 45 Ontario “violations” of the open meeting provisions of the Municipal Act found by the Ombudsman were “violations” committed by council of the Town of South Bruce Penninsula. The Ombudsman found that council of the Town of South Bruce Peninsula broke the law with respect to closed meetings six times. That’s 13.3 per cent of all the violations found by the Ombudsman.
TSBP council had six “violations”, TSBO council had 13.3 per cent of the “violations”, and TSBP council was second only to Midland in number of “violations” (Midland had 7). Hardly a good record.
All 6 violations were connected to a complaint made March 31, 2011. As required by law, the Ombudsman reported to the town about the March 31, 2011 complaint, in a letter dated July 19, 2011.
So with six violations of the law, the July 19, 2011 report from the Ombudsman to the town about the six “violations” must have been clear, unambiguous, direct, and strong.
The July 19, 2011 report from the Ombudsman about the meetings in which the 6 “violations” occurred does not even mention the word “violations”. In fact it implies that there were no “violations”. A few of the violations were described as actions which “should have” been done differently, but the language is couched so as to mean “maybe should have” been done differently. And in the report most of the violations of the law were described as actions which merely “could have” been done differently.
And in the associated Clerk’s report to council there is no indication of any “violations” of the law either. And the discussion of the issue in the August 2, 2011 council meeting was “we got a clean bill of health”.
In that meeting John Close even said, falsely, that:
“This was not an investigation; it was a report.”
This is incredible. Almost four months of investigation and six violations of the law found and John Close says there was “no investigation”?
The July 19, 2011 Ombudsman’s report is in complete contradiction to the OMLET report.
There is only one plausible explanation for this contradiction. Systemic bias. The Ombudsman’s office and the Ombudsman’s Open Meetings Law Enforcement Team I believe are steering clear of enforcing the law against TSBP council because they have a biased view that the council could not possibly be wrong.
(I would call it “political interference” instead of, or in addition to, “systematic bias”, but then I would have to admit that “political interference” is a bit speculative at this time, and that “political interference” is based only on my unsubstantiated belief that John Close is an active member of the Ontario Liberal party, that being the party whose leader at the time, in a clear act of “political interference”, stole $600 million of taxpayers’ money to buy out a gas-plant contract for the sole purpose of getting a Liberal win in a 2012 Mississauga by-election.)
So in the July 19, 2011 report the Ombudsman swept right under the carpet the six TSBP violations of the very law which the Ombudsman’s gang claims to enforce.
Regardless of the reason why the six violations were swept under the carpet, the fact remains that the Ombusman and his office swept them all under the carpet, and as a result the Ombusman and his office now have absolutely no credibility. No credibility whatsoever. On July 19, 2011, (or earlier), the Ombudsman’s office became a complete joke.
And TSBP council, then emboldened by the Ombudsman’s report, just laughed and carried on violating the law, just as they had done before.
Why anyone would even contact the totally useless and possibly corrupt Ombudsman’s office after the 2011 fiasco is beyond me, but someone obviously was concerned enough about TSBP council’s continuing violations of the Municipal Act to give the complaint-to-the-Ombudsman’s-office process another try.
Another complaint to the Ombudsman’s office, this time about several 2012 closed meetings and one 2013 closed meeting, was filed with the Ombudsman on February 1, 2013.
It turned out to be a waste of effort. The Ombudsman’s spring 2013 investigation was completely incompetent, the analysis biased and wrong.
The first flaw in the investigation was that the investigator looked at only closed minutes and only spoke to John Close and Angie Cathrae about what had been said and what had been discussed in closed session. No other council members were interviewed. So the investigator got only John Close’s and Angie Cathrae’s views of things. Very biased views.
And so the investigator got it wrong.
The investigator said on page 2 of her July 19, 2103 letter:
“The closed meeting records showed that, in all cases, the subject matter discussed in closed session focused on one or more active or potential lawsuits in which the town and/or staff acting on behalf of the town are named as respondents.”
The investigator was saying that the closed meeting minutes showed that only cases where the town or staff were named as respondents were discussed in closed.
If the meeting minutes actually do say that then they are false. Cases in which neither the town nor staff were named as “respondents” were in fact discussed. Several cases. And the investigator, Yvonne Heggie, was told of this before the investigation even started. And the investigator was told that to know with any certainty whether cases in which neither the town nor staff were named as “respondents” were in fact discussed in closed, she would have to look beyond the minutes and interview people (who were at the closed meetings) beyond just Cathrae and Close.
But the investigator ignored that advice, turned a blind eye to the facts, and as a result “found” no violations.
So the investigator, having no credibility as a result of the 2011 investigation fiasco, made her credibility and that of her office even worse by investigating the February 1, 2013 complaint completely blindfolded and wearing hearing protectors.
The investigator also made several other significant errors in her investigation and analysis. These are being put into a request to the Ombudsman for reconsideration of the July 19, 2013 report. (I will circulate the request for reconsideration when it becomes available).
On his website, the Ombudsman bills himself as “Ontario’s Watchdog”. What a joke. Blind and deaf. Sees only what he wants to see, and hears only what he wants to hear. Some “watchdog”.
Councillor Kirkland was very smug about the Ombudsman’s reports.
In an interview with Owen Sound Sun Times reporter Rob Gowan, [http://www.saublesewer.com/Documents/20130610%20Ombudsman%20Letter.pdf]
Kirkland is quoted as follows:
“We have had the ombudsman review us in the past,” said Kirkland. “We are one of the only municipalities that have had the scrutiny of what is going on. It is nice to know you are doing things right and have that reconfirmed and we can carry on.”
Memo to Kirkland:
There were six violations found in the first investigation, Mr. Kirkland. The Ombudsman did not say you were doing things right in the past. And the investigation in 2013 was conducted blindfolded and biased. You are not doing things right now either. You were and are still violating the law.
Councillor Kirkland wants to just carry on violating the law, just as they have violated the law in the past.
Councillor Kirkland and all the other council members who are feeling so smug about getting away with the violations of the law should be aware that while they may have fooled the incompetent, zero-credibility, badly-biased Ombudsman on the issue of closed meeting violations, they haven’t fooled the engaged voters. Not one bit.
October 2014 can’t come soon enough.
I should note that Councillor Bowman appears to have picked up on the fact that council had violated the law regarding the earlier June 2011 Ombudsman’s report. But as far as I can see all others condoned the “we passed” scam. If any councillor does not or did not support the scam, they should say so.