The decision to ditch the Ombudsman in favour of LAS could be a costly one
To the Expositor:
In the meeting of Billings Township Council on February 3—attended by your Recorder editor Tom Sasvari and your local stringer Sharon Jackson—council passed the following motion:
2015-23 Imrie – Alkenbrack
Be it resolved that council instructs the clerk treasurer to complete the paperwork necessary and pay the necessary fee to appoint the Local Authority Services (LAS) as the Municipal Closed Meeting Investigator.
Three points that Billings taxpayers should be aware of.
1) Councillor Imrie was the councillor who, back in the summer of 2014, made a motion to go into closed meeting to discuss “personal matters” related to the appointment of a councillor to complete the term of a councillor who had died in office. This was reported to the Ontario Ombudsman’s Office as a complaint for being inappropriate. The Ombudsman investigated and agreed that the closed meeting did breach the conditions of the Municipal Act.
2) Councillor Alkenbrack was in fact the beneficiary of that closed meeting – by virtue of a coin toss and was appointed to the vacant position. The Ombudsman made very clear in his report that the motion to go into closed meeting and the vote within that closed meeting were both illegal. What made Councillor Alkenbrack’s appointment legal was the vote in open council that followed those two votes. It was in effect freestanding, but at least it was legal!
3) Now, for those who don’t know, the Local Authority Services (LAS) is a function/service set up by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO), an organization set up to both share services and (some would say) to lobby for municipalities with the provincial government. Whether its first interest would be to the citizens and taxpayers of Ontario (and in this case Billings), as is the case with the Ombudsman, might be held in question. Also, any complaints that go to the Ombudsman are held anonymous. Whether that would be the case with LAS would I guess remain to be seen! [I would put on record here that I was not the source of the complaint that went to the Ombudsman—so it is clear that there was at least one other behind-the-scenes observers questioning some of the actions of the previous council].
In effect, council has committed Billings taxpayers to an annual retainer of $330 plus an investigation fee of $225 per hour should an investigation be required. That could cost taxpayers thousands whereas the Ombudsman’s services are free! Why? Because the Ombudsman did his job without fear or favour and council was embarrassed!
In conclusion, I would add this: When a council has been held to account by an outside independent body with lawful oversight—and been found wanting—I would expect that council to raise the bar as it were—and would not want to appear as if to duck and hide!