Council explores closed session investigator options
January 15, 2013
HUNTSVILLE – Huntsville council seems to be taking a preemptive step by deciding who it would use to investigate a closed session complaint, should one be lodged against it.
Mayor Claude Doughty presented a motion at a December council meeting asking council’s permission to have staff look into the impact of appointing an independent closed-session investigator as opposed to using the provincial ombudsman.
“If there is a complaint about going into a closed session where we talked about a situation and we shouldn’t have been in closed session for it, the public can complain to the ombudsman and he can investigate,” said Doughty. “But if we choose that we want to use someone other than the ombudsman, we can do that under the (Municipal) Act.”
Doughty seemed less concerned with an investigation into whether council misuses closed session designations than he was with the ombudsman.
He said the ombudsman has made closed-session investigations his passion after an amendment to the Municipal Act in 2006 called Bill 130 that strengthened the role of municipal councils and gave them more power. Part of the amendment gave councils permissive authority to establish their own integrity commissioner, code of conduct, ombudsman, auditor general and lobbyist registry.
Doughty noted that anyone can trigger an investigation into whether council should have gone into a closed session and, as it stands, the ombudsman would be appointed to investigate the complaint because the town has not appointed another investigator.
“The system is set up that for the cost of a stamp you can trigger this whole investigation,” he said. “Everyone has been reading some of the findings of the ombudsman. My personal view is that the Municipal Act is pretty clear, but (Bill 130) is an act on an act that the ombudsman is dissatisfied with, so he tends to establish rules that aren’t common place.”
Ombudsman André Marin has stated publicly that he feels there are significant flaws with Bill 130 that hamper accountability more than help it.
Doughty noted that closed session investigations would take place, if necessary, but council can determine who conducts the investigation.
Coun. Karin Terziano questioned whether the ombudsman would be more impartial during an investigation than someone hired by the town.
But Denise Corry, clerk and executive director of corporate services, noted that, while council may appoint the investigator, it does not have control over the investigation process.
“If a complaint comes in, it’s filed with the clerk, who then contacts the investigator. The information is filed through a staff process,” said Corry.
And Kelly Pender, chief administrative officer for the town, noted that an investigator, whether the ombudsman or someone else, would determine nothing more than the content of the closed session meeting and whether it fell within an applicable closed session category within the Municipal Act.
“The investigation just determines whether you complied with the act,” said Pender.
Staff have been directed to present a report about the options available.
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