Tehkummah council cleared by Ombudsman in December 2017 closed meeting

But council found to have failed to provide proper notice

TEHKUMMAH–The Ombudsman received a complaint that council for the Township of Tehkummah did not provide proper notice to the public for a special closed council meeting held on December 22, 2017. Ombudsman Paul Dubé found that the township’s discussion fit within the cited “personnel matters” exception, as well as the “labour relations” exception.  However, the Ombudsman found that the township contravened the Municipal Act, 2001 (Act) and the township’s procedure bylaw by failing to provide proper public notice. The Ombudsman also found a number of issues with council’s procedures and identified best practices and procedural steps to improve the township’s meeting practices.

Under the Act, all meetings of council, local boards and committees of each of them must be open to the public unless they fall within prescribed exceptions. Citizens have the right to request an investigation. On January 16, 2018 the township was advised of the intent of the Ombudsman’s office to investigate the complaint. The Ombudsman is the closed meeting investigator for the Township of Tehkummah. The office would consider whether the open meeting requirements of the Act and the municipality’s governing procedures were observed.

The investigation found that council for the Township of Tehkummah did not contravene the Act when it went in camera on December 22, 2017 to discuss the ongoing workplace investigation into harassment allegations made by a staff member. The discussion fit within the closed meeting exceptions for “personnel matters” and “labour relations.”

Reeve Eric Russell welcomed the report, saying, “It shows we didn’t do anything wrong.”

However, the failure of council to provide notice for the special meeting is a violation of the open meeting requirements in the Act and the township’s procedure bylaw. In addition, council failed to ensure that minutes of the in camera meeting were recorded.

The Ombudsman recommended the Township of Tehkummah update its procedure bylaw to reflect the closed meeting provisions in the Act and to correct references to out-of-date or repealed sections of the Act. He also suggested the Township of Tehkummah should update its procedure bylaw to formalize its general practice of posting notice of upcoming meetings in various locations throughout the municipality. The Township of Tehkummah should also consider updating its procedure bylaw to provide for the calling of emergency meetings and should consider video or audio recording its open and closed meetings.

There were eight recommendations made to assist the township in fulfilling its obligations under the Act and enhancing the transparency of its meetings.

The first is that all members of council for the Township of Tehkummah should be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligations to ensure that council complies with its responsibilities under the Act and its own procedure bylaw.

The second recommendation is that all members of council for the Township of Tehkummah should be vigilant in adhering to their obligation to ensure that sufficient notice for all council meetings, including special meetings, is provided to the public in compliance with the Act and its own procedure bylaw.

Recommendation three is that the Township of Tehkummah should formalize its general practice of posting public notice of upcoming meetings in locations within the municipality in its procedure bylaw.

Recommendation four is for the Township of Tehkummah to include provisions for the calling of emergency or urgent meetings in its procedure bylaw.

The fifth recommendation is for the Township of Tehkummah to comprehensively review and amend its procedure bylaw to accurately reflect the open meeting provisions of the Act, and to ensure that its procedure bylaw does not contain references to repealed legislation.

Another recommendation is that the Township of Tehkummah should ensure that both open and closed session minutes are kept of all meetings of council, local boards, and committees.

Number seven is for the Township of Tehkummah to ensure that meeting records are complete and accurately reflect all of the substantive and procedural items that were discussed.

The final recommendation is that the Township of Tehkummah should implement the practice of audio or video recording its open and closed sessions.

The township was provided the opportunity to review a preliminary report and to provide comments to the Ombudsman’s office. Comments received were considered in the preparation of the final report. Reeve Russell told the Ombudsman that he recognized that the lack of closed meeting minutes was an error, and that the township will improve its procedures to fulfill its statutory obligations in the future.

The Ombudsman concluded that the report should be shared with council and made available to the public as soon as possible, and no later than the next council meeting.  

To view the full report, visit ombudsman.on.ca/resources/reports-and-case-summaries/municipal-meetings/2018/township-of-tehkummah.