BLOG #713: City council members will be shovelling it high and wide tonight when Ontario’s ombudsman pays a visit to the strategic priorities and planning committee. One wonders just what smell they are trying to cover up?
Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 – London
Let’s hope the Ontario ombudsman has his BS deflector screwed on tight when he comes to explain his responsibilities to London city council this afternoon. Because, according to reports, he’s going to get quite a pile of it flung his way.
Andre Marin, as you may know, in his capacity as ombudsman has also been appointed the closed meeting investigator for London. His meeting with city council’s strategic priorities and policy committee – which is just a fancy name for the entire council meeting as a committee – is in that capacity.
The meeting follows the investigation and subsequent scathing report Mr. Marin conducted and authored around the so-called Harmony Six – six members of council who lunched at Harmony Grand Buffet just hours before they would be among the eight votes required to approve the 2012 budget with had no tax increase. Seven other members of council voted against it.
So here’s the BS coming Mr. Marin’s way:
-- This investigation costs taxpayers too much money.
Dale Henderson, councillor for Ward 9 and one of the Harmony Six, rarely misses an opportunity to make that charge. He doesn’t say how much money the Marin investigation cost London taxpayers, but whatever it cost was too much.
What it cost is a number that should be near and dear to Mr. Henderson’s heart: Zero.
Three years ago the provincial government decreed Ontario municipalities had to appoint an outsider to investigate any complaints from the public about improper closed meetings as defined by the Municipal Act. They were given a choice of either hiring some qualified person of their own choosing – in which case the municipality would be on the hook for all of the relevant costs – or they could use the ombudsman, at no cost.
London picked the ombudsman. So the cost of all of his investigations is covered by the allocations made by Queen’s Park to his office. There is no direct, separate cost to London taxpayers.
-- The names of people who register complaints with the ombudsman should be public.
This is Stephen Orser’s favourite hobby horse next to trying to get us to pay him more money because he works – so he claims – full-time. Councillor Orser, one of the Harmony Six, desperately wants to know who ratted on him.
Councillor Orser argues a person charged has the right to face his accuser in public.
But the ombudsman does not, cannot in fact, lay charges against any person or any city as a result of his investigation. All he is empowered to do is to write a report which the city is obliged to make public as soon as it is received.
So it’s not clear why Councillor Orser is so worried about this. Has he got something to hide?
Even at its most sinister – which is scarcely a word one would use – ombudsman investigations are nothing like a police inquiry. Police do use secret snitches who never appear in court. It’s called Crime Stoppers, a concept of informant secrecy one presumes Councillor Orser supports.
-- Individual councillors could be investigated or charged by the ombudsman.
This is a complaint Joe Swan, the councillor for Ward 3, filed with council’s finance and administrative services committee. Councillor Swan apparently was invited to the Harmony luncheon but didn’t attend.
Possibly he knew better. Certainly he should know better than make the allegation he did.
The ombudsman does not investigate council members. In this role he only investigates whether a meeting held by council members constitutes an illegal gathering or not. There are a series of rules and conditions which govern that.
This matters, of course, because groups of council members deciding things in private violates the right of citizens to see the business of their community conducted in an open and accountable way.
By the way, after his investigation, Mr. Marin concluded the Harmony Six luncheon was not an illegal meeting.
However, as he reported Aug. 2: “The attendees do not appear to have given much thought
to public perception or the potential for questions to arise around the fairness of
the subsequent committee and council proceedings.”
And that’s no BS.
You want WHAT?
You wonder, sometimes, where peoples’ heads are. That’s the only way to look at the request by the board of city-owned London Hydro for a raise in the chairperson’s stipend from $10,000 to $25,000 and the board members from $6,000 to $12,000. Plus an increase in their meeting per diem from $600 to $800.
This at a time when, after two successive zero increase budgets, city managers have had raises, workers raises have been scant, there have been layoffs and services have been trimmed.
Council shouldn’t waste much time saying no.