Bruce County presents response to ombudsman’s closed meeting report

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BRUCE COUNTY – Bruce County’s executive committee has presented its response to the ombudsman’s closed meeting investigation report of May 2022, in a report by CAO Derrick Thomson.

There was virtually no discussion prior to or following approval of the response.

The response indicated the executive committee closed minutes and agenda attachments will be made public with no redactions for the Sept. 21, 2017 and Sept. 6, 2018 meetings.

The Jan. 10, 2019 closed minutes and agenda attachments will be made public with the exception of discussion related to “personal matters about an identifiable individual, which will be redacted from both the minutes and the report.”

The Aug. 2, 2018 executive committee closed minutes, report and attachments will not be made public.

As stated in the response, the ombudsman’s office notified the county on March 11, 2021, alleging the executive committee had held four closed meetings that did not comply with open meeting rules in the Municipal Act, 2001.

The executive committee discussed the ombudsman’s preliminary report on March 11, 2022. The final report was received in May. The report was received for information in June and staff were directed to prepare a response to the report; this was presented July 7.

The ombudsman made a number of recommendations, the first of which was members of the executive committee “should be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligation to ensure that the municipality complies with its responsibility under the Municipal Act…” The county’s response was to circulate to council a copy of a closed meeting training session presentation (Feb. 13, 2020) and other information on closed meeting guidelines.

The second recommendation specified no subject is to be discussed in closed session unless “it clearly comes within one of the statutory exceptions to the open meeting requirements.”

In all, the ombudsman made seven recommendations, noting in his report “that the meetings analyzed in the report may not reflect the county’s current approach when deciding whether or not to discuss a matter in camera.”

The ombudsman’s report described some of the topics of discussion during the closed meetings. The Jan. 10, 2019 closed meeting included discussion of potential locations for the Nuclear Innovation Institute. Discussion at other meetings included “speculative” discussions about land transactions, and development of a county hub.

The ombudsman’s report stressed that the training and education exception under the Municipal Act applies only to training, where “no member discusses or otherwise deals with a matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of council.” It also stressed that the acquisition or disposition of land exception must be specific and include a bargaining position, and is not for providing general information.

As a “best practice” to ensure accuracy and completeness of information, the ombudsman’s office recommends that all municipalities make audio or video recordings of all meetings, both open and closed.

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times

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