Full report: Ontario Ombudsman Investigation into the Municipality of Brighton’s alleged violation of the Municipal Act on May 28, 2015
Ontario Ombudsman Investigation into the Municipality of Brighton
Summary of report content quoted directly from full report
1. On June 9, 2015, my Office received a complaint about a closed meeting held by council for the Municipality of Brighton on May 28, 2015.
2. According to the complaint, council proceeded in camera to discuss and vote on the termination of a senior municipal employee. The complaint alleged that the in camera vote was taken in violation of the Municipal Act, 2001 (the Act).
40. Council for the Municipality of Brighton was permitted, under the exceptions contained in the Municipal Act, 2001, to meet in closed session on May 28, 2015 to discuss the performance and compensation of various municipal employees.
41. However, council technically contravened the Act and its own procedure by-law when it voted on five resolutions in camera. While the substance of these resolutions was to direct staff, the wording of the resolution did not reflect this intent.
42. My investigation also found that council for the Municipality of Brighton violated section 239(4)(a) of the Municipal Act, 2001 by failing to state by resolution the general nature of the matters to be considered in closed session.
43. I am making the following recommendations to assist council for the Municipality of Brighton to improve its practices with respect to open meetings.
All members of council of the Municipality of Brighton should be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligation to ensure that council complies with its responsibilities under the Municipal Act, 2001 and its own procedure by-law.
The Municipality of Brighton should refrain from voting on matters in closed session unless the vote is for a procedural matter or for giving direction to staff.
The Municipality of Brighton should ensure that closed session resolutions intended to provide direction to staff are clearly worded as such.
The Municipality of Brighton should ensure that its resolutions to proceed in camera provide a description of the issue to be discussed, as well as the exception authorizing the discussion.
The Municipality of Brighton should ensure that its audio recorder is functioning properly for each meeting of council.
For future meetings, I hope that Brighton Council will carefully consider if it’s even necessary to go into closed session. The open meetings provisions in the Municipal Act. are designed to ensure transparency by maximizing information disclosure to the public.
In my opinion, Council should only go into closed session if there is a clearly identifiable detriment to residents by holding the meeting in public. Individually, Council members should challenge each closed session request based on this criteria.
If Council does decide to go into closed session, Council should follow the advice of Ombudsman’s office and “provide a description of the issue to be discussed, as well as the exception authorizing the discussion” so that “the wording of the resolution…do more than simply refer to the section of the Municipal Act that permits the closed meeting exception”.