Ombudsman finds discussion at committee to be an official "meeting"

·2 min read

Southgate Council has accepted an Ombudsman’s report into a meeting of the advisory committee for the fire department and its recommendations.

Those at the meeting in Oct. 2019 decided that since quorum was not reached until about one minute after the 30-minute limit from start time, that those gathered would not hold an official meeting with a vote, but would discuss matters .

There were minutes and an audio recording taken, and the meeting was open to the public. The Ombudsman held that it was not an illegal closed meeting, as the public could have joined in at any point, but that because the discussions advanced business that it was a meeting under the Municipal Act.

He said if quorum was not reached within 30 minutes that meetings should adjourn, and council should be vigilant about all its obligations under the Municipal Act and its own bylaws.

When Southgate council received the report, Coun. Barbara Dobreen commented that the recommendation was general, and asked the clerk if any changes were planned.

The clerk said those present at the meetings will be made more aware of the requirement regarding the 30-minute timeline.

Dobreen also asked about the Ombudsman’s mentioning that those at the meeting were speaking about identifiable individuals and their personal circumstances with regard to their joining the department. (This discussion did not form part of the meeting minutes, which record motions.) She asked if that should not have been done in closed session.

The clerk agreed with that, and Coun. Dobreen encouraged the clerk and other staff to draw it to members’ attention if discussion was moving into areas that would be better discussed in closed session.

Southgate received notice in early 2020 that the provincial Ombudsman will be investigating the Oct. 22, 2019 meeting of the Fire Department Advisory and Support Committee.

The Ombudsman's office received a complaint alleging that the meeting didn’t comply with open meeting rules in the Municipal Act, 2001. The Feb. 5, 2020 letter from the Ombudsman’s office notifying Southgate council appeared in the agenda on March 4.

M.T. Fernandes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Dundalk Herald