Special Report: City Manager

Ask the Ontario Ombudsman to Investigate Committee Meeting in Niagara

Council members held a "public" meeting early Saturday morning at a resort 66 km away from Hamilton and refused to let the public or reporters attend.

By Craig Burley
Published February 10, 2019

With files from Ryan McGreal.

If you are unhappy that Hamilton City Council members banned public observers from the "public" meeting they held at a resort in Niagara-on-the-Lake, I would like to ask you to file a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman. It's the legal avenue for a complaint under the "Sunshine Law".

How to File a Complaint

Here is the link:

Let them know you are complaining about a Municipality. The "Organization" your complaint is about is the City of Hamilton. You will have to provide your contact information. Then, in the "Short Summary" section, write that you are complaining about the committee meeting on February 9, 2019.

Speak your mind. Write how you feel about the meeting. You don't have to dress it up in chapter and verse from the Ontario Municipal Act. Just complain if you think the meeting was improper, and let them know why!

People complaining helps the Ombudsman to establish that it is a serious issue they need to investigate.

Here are some reasons you might think that the service to the public by the City of Hamilton at Saturday's meeting of the City Manager Recruitment Steering Committee was substandard:

1. Meeting Location Violates the Law

The committee held the meeting 66 km outside Hamilton, despite a bylaw saying it has to be held in Hamilton. The meeting was at the White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is in the Regional Municipality of Niagara.

According to Section 236 of the Ontario Municipal Act:

236 (1) The council of a municipality shall hold its meetings and keep its public offices within the municipality or an adjacent municipality at a place set out in the municipality's procedure by-law; however, in the case of an emergency, it may hold its meetings and keep its public offices at any convenient location within or outside the municipality. 2001, c. 25, s. 236 (1).

This was obviously not an emergency meeting, and Section 3.3 of the City of Hamilton's Procedure By-Law requires that meetings of Council be held "in the Council Chambers at City Hall in the City of Hamilton or at such other place within the City of Hamilton as Council may from time to time determine," (section 3.3) or, for special meetings of Standing Committees only, "at locations and times to permit convenient access for members of the public most affected by such a matter with at least 48 hours notice, delivering notice in accordance with subsections 3.4(3) and 3.4(4)." (section 5.4)

Obviously, holding the meeting in Niagara-on-the-Lake at 8:30 AM on a Saturday morning does not "permit convenient access for members of the public most affected by" the hiring of a new General Manager.

The location of the Resort and Spa Meeting was improper under the Procedural By-Law as it was not in the City of Hamilton. It was therefore also improper under section 236 of the Municipal Act, which provides that meetings must be held at places that conform to the Procedural By-Law.

2. Not Enough Notice of Start Time Change

The Council members changed the start time of the meeting to prevent specific members of the public, who had already asked to attend, from accessing the meeting by public transport. And they made that change without the necessary 48 hours' notice.

The meeting was originally scheduled for 9:00 AM on Saturday, February 9, but some time after 9:00 AM on Thursday, February 7, the time was changed to 8:30 AM. That means there was not enough notice of the change in timing under the Procedure By-Law.

As Deanna Allain noted on Saturday, the change in timing meant she and other intended attendees to this public meeting would no longer be able to arrive in time. This appears to have been deliberate.

3. Spa Staff Were Told to Ban Public Access

The Council members instructed White Oaks Conference Resort and Spa staff to bar entry to people without an e-mailed invitation. But most of the agenda items for this meeting are supposed to be public. That's provincial law!

Members of the public were prevented from access to this public meeting. This violates Section 239 of the Municipal Act.

4. Reporter Kicked Off the Premises

The Council members even had staff at the resort eject a reporter who was trying to cover the public portions of the meeting! As Hamilton Community News reporter Kevin Werner writes:

A Hamilton Community News reporter attempted to enter the meeting room, but the door was locked. The White Oaks Resort and Spa concierge confronted the reporter and said an email had been sent out by the city and it would explain everything. He did not say when the email had been sent. The reporter was politely escorted out of the resort building and off the property.

That's totally inappropriate.

5. No Public Declarations of Interest

The Council members are trying to keep their conflicts of interest in the General Manager hiring process a secret. The public was not allowed to observe the "Declarations of Interest" portion of this public meeting.

The need for clean and transparent government in the hiring of a top executive is critical, and it's inappropriate for a public meeting to take place without the public being allowed to observe whether or not the members have any conflicts of interest.

This is Bad

These are all serious issues. You can complain about them. If you value our open and responsible democracy, you should value the principle of open meetings. I hope you can join me. One sentence is fine. The people of the city will be in your debt.

Once again, here's the link:

Craig Burley is a tax lawyer in Hamilton. You can follow him on twitter @craig_burley. Comments here are not legal advice.

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By publicemployee (registered) | Posted February 12, 2019 at 13:21:17

Bravo ! I have also complained to the Ombudsman, so we will see how this goes. The reaction of certain councillors who seem to forget who pays their freight etc, is even more frustrating.

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