By Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator, Thursday January 12, 2012
Ombud knocks city council over closed-door meetings
Ontario’s ombudsman has rapped the knuckles of Hamilton councillors for wrongly debating public business behind closed doors — twice in the same day.
In two letters to the city, an ombudsman investigator weighed in on complaints filed by Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel about in-camera discussions by the general issues committee June 27.
In her review, Michelle Bird said councillors “improperly” debated McMaster University’s proposal for a downtown health campus in secret — even after staff warned the discussion should be public.
Bird also said councillors were offside in privately debating how to axe the board of directors for the Hamilton Entertainment and Convention Facilities Inc., noting the discussions “were not about the HECFI board members in their personal capacity.”
The findings should be a “wake-up call” for city politicians, said Councillor Brad Clark, who at the time publicly questioned the decision to go behind closed doors for the McMaster discussion.
“The law says we’re supposed to be as open and transparent as possible. If we go in camera, there needs to be a clear reason to do so,” he said. “For a while (last year), we were being asked to go in camera based on the slimmest of verbal assurances.”
Councillors also went in camera Monday night to discuss the ombudsman’s findings. Solicitor Peter Barkwell told councillors at the meeting he wanted to give legal advice on the matter to council, which can be done privately under the Municipal Act.
Mayor Bob Bratina said Tuesday feedback from the ombudsman on council practices is “always useful,” but added council and staff “may or may not agree” with the latest findings. He wouldn’t offer an opinion. (Source: Hamilton Spectator)