Two Bonfield council meetings caught the attention of Paul Dubé, the Ombudsman of Ontario, who investigated after receiving a complaint alleging council met electronically without broadcasting the meeting to the public.
The complaints specified the May 12 and June 9 meetings from 2020.
Under the Municipal Act, all council meetings, local boards, and committees of council must be open to the public. During Covid, many municipalities have fulfilled that obligation by providing live video or audio streams of their meetings.
On October 19, 2020, the Ombudsman began the investigation into the complaint, and town staff told the ombudsman that a portion of the May 12 meeting was not captured due to a technical error regarding the video.
This was the township’s first electronic meeting, and the portions of that meeting that were recorded have since been posted to its YouTube channel.
The Ombudsman also noted that for the May 12 special council meeting, “no location was indicated on the agenda,” which was expected, as it was an on-line meeting, however, “no instructions for how the public could access or observe the meeting were included.”
The same complaint pertained to the June 9 meeting.
A regular council meeting followed the special meeting, and for both, “the minutes reflect only the resolutions passed by council” at those meetings, “and do not reflect the matters discussed during the meeting.”
Audio of the June 9 meeting was supposed to be broadcast, but the township’s CAO, Peter Johnston, later learned “that this did not happen,” the report explains.
“Both Mayor and CAO told us that there was no intention to exclude the public from these meetings,” the Ombudsman clarified, adding that since June 9, all meetings “are accessible to the public” via live stream on YouTube.
More so, a teleconference option is available for those without the ability to stream the videos.
“I recognize that municipalities have faced unprecedented challenges in adapting their operations during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the Ombudsman’s report explains.
Nevertheless, the Ombudsman reminded council that the Supreme Court of Canada has established “the right to observe municipal government in process,” which means live stream broadcasts if in-person viewing is not allowed.
As such, these meetings on May 12 and June 9 which were not “made accessible to the public in real-time,” were “closed contrary to open meeting rules in the Municipal Act,” the report concludes.
The Ombudsman provided some recommendations for the township, primarily that council “should be vigilant in adhering to the individual and collective obligation” to ensuring compliance with the Municipal Act.
Bonfield should also “ensure that meeting minutes reflect all proceedings of council, including subjects discussed and resolutions considered” at every meeting.
Moreover, the Ombudsman suggested the township update its procedural by-law “to reflect all of the exceptions to the open meeting rules” set out in the Municipal Act, to avoid future misunderstandings.
Throughout the investigation, “my Office received full co-operation” from Bonfield’s council and staff, Dubé said.
“We’ll do our best to comply,” with the recommendations, said Mayor Randy McLaren.
David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca