Ombudsman determines Saugeen Shores not in contravention of Municipal Act

At Saugeen Shores August 10th Council meeting, a report from the Ontario Office of the Ombudsman, answered complaints lodged with the Office regarding ‘closed meetings’ held by Council.

Mayor Luke Charbonneau said that normally a ‘communication’ is not read at Council however, he “… felt it important to bring the report to light as it’s important for the public to hear “.

The Ontario Office of the Ombudsman received a complaint about meetings held by council for the Town of Saugeen Shores on July 22nd, November 11th and November 25th, 2019. During these meetings, council convened in closed session to discuss the re-development of municipal property on the Port Elgin beach, “Cedar Crescent Village”.

The Ombudsman is the closed meeting investigator for the Town of Saugeen Shores.

In his report, Ombudsman Paul Dube, said that the complaint alleged that these discussions did not fit within the exceptions to the open meeting rule, and that council’s discussion expanded beyond the descriptions provided in the resolutions to proceed in camera.  Additionally, two more complaints were lodged that council held an informal private gathering that amounted to an illegal closed meeting on February 24th, 2020. These complaints relate to a recess that council took during an open council meeting.

As part of the investigation, the Ombudsman reviewed relevant portions of the Town’s by-laws and policies, as well as the agenda packages, minutes, and meeting materials relevant to the closed session discussion. In addition, the open session video recording of the February 24th meeting was reviewed. As well all nine members of council, as well as the municipal Clerk and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) were also interviewed.

At the conclusion of his report, the Ombudsman made the following determinations:

  • that Council for the Town of Saugeen Shores did not violate the Municipal Act, on July 22, 2019, when it discussed the waterfront development in closed session. The discussion fit under the exception for discussing plans and instructions for negotiations (s. 239(2)(k)) and the exception for discussing the acquisition and disposition of municipal land (s 239(2)(c)).
  • that Council for the Town of Saugeen Shores did not violate the Act on November 11 or November 25, 2019, when it discussed the waterfront development in closed session. The November 11 discussion was permissible under the exception for plans and instructions for negotiations (s. 239(2)(k)) and the November 25 discussion was permissible under the plans and instructions for negotiations (s. 239(2)(k)) and advice subject to solicitor-client privilege (s. 239(2)(f)) exceptions.
  • that Council also did not contravene the Act’s open meeting requirements during the meeting recess on February 24, 2020. This discussion did not constitute a meeting under the Act, as council did not materially advance any business or decision-making.

“Council has faced a considerable amount of criticism with regard to our procedure around the waterfront development,” said Mayor Charbonneau. “It has now been looked into by the Ombudsman who has found that the procedures were entirely appropriate.  The Integrity Commissioner late last year determined that I and Councilor Myette also had not violated the Code of Conduct as far as those waterfront meetings were concerned.”

Deputy Mayor Don Matheson also added that, “I think it’s important that the public knows that Council does not operate on its own.  We have a series of rules that we must follow under the Municipal Act.  We are guided by our CAO, our Clerk and our Mayor and the last thing that we want is to break those rules.  Those are laws and we are representatives of this community and we don’t do ‘stuff’ like that. So, when members of the community have a decision that they don’t like and they challenge us on our integrity I think it gets offide.  The Ombudsman’s report vindicates us and shows that we are doing what we are supposed to do, what we were elected to do.  It is a very costly experience to go to the Ombudsman and the Town itself is responsible for paying for that.  I hope the community understands that we do what we are supposed to do and are guided by our management team.  Our Clerk and CAO are very knowledgeable in what we can and cannot do and they make sure we stay on the ‘straight-and-narrow’.  We would not do anything to put the town of Saugeen Shores in jeopardy.”

The Town is committed to sharing the Ombudsman’s final report with council and making it available to the public as soon as possible, and no later than the next council meeting.

To read the Ombudsman’s communication to Council, CLICK HERE