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The Ombudsman received a complaint alleging that council for the City of Owen Sound violated the open meeting rules found in the Municipal Act, 2001 on March 14, 2022. At the time, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, council chambers – where council and committee meetings are held by the City – were closed to members of the public; the public was, instead, given the option to watch the proceedings via livestream. The complaint alleged that the council meeting held on this date was improperly closed to the public because the public could not see who was present or how each council member voted, as that information was not displayed on the screen. The Ombudsman found that there was no contravention of the Act or the City’s procedural by-law; there is no requirement that the public be able to see who is present in council chambers, and the public was able to see the results of each vote during the meeting.
The Ombudsman reviewed four meetings of the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area. The Ombudsman noted that notice of the meetings was provided 72 hours before each meeting, although the meetings were not held on their originally scheduled dates as noted on the website. The Ombudsman determined that the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area complied with the notice requirements in the Municipal Act, 2001 and its procedure by-law, although its website had provided inaccurate information about the board's meeting schedule.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by the board of directors for the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area to discuss its proposed response to an open letter regarding the board’s meeting practices, relying on the personal matters exception. While in closed session, the members of the board did discuss some personal opinions about the author of the open letter, however the Ombudsman found that this wasn’t the focus of the discussion. Rather, the board primarily discussed how it should respond to the issues raised in the open letter. The Ombudsman found that this discussion did not fit within the personal matters exception.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the City of Owen Sound that relied on the exception for solicitor-client privilege to discuss a decision of the Supreme Court of Canada about prayer during council meetings. The municipality had a practice of beginning each meeting with a faith blessing. During the meeting, council discussed the contents of communications between staff and the municipality’s solicitor which provided legal advice related to council’s faith blessing. The Ombudsman found that the discussion fit within the exception for solicitor-client privilege.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the City of Owen Sound that took place in a basement boardroom before an open session in council chambers. The municipality’s procedure by-law stipulates that matters on the closed meeting agenda will be discussed at a time and place set out in the public meeting agenda. For the meeting in question, notice of the open session was provided in accordance with the procedure by-law. However, the public agenda failed to include the location of the closed meeting that took place prior to the open session. The Ombudsman found that while the public were properly informed of the date and time of the closed meeting, the municipality failed to provide notice of the correct location for it.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the City of Owen Sound. The meeting was closed under the personal matters and litigation or potential litigation exceptions. During the meeting, council voted on funding for an MRI machine. The Ombudsman found that the meeting did not fit within the cited exceptions. The Ombudsman found that the vote was not for a procedural matter or to provide direction to staff. Therefore, the vote was not permissible.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the City of Owen Sound to discuss funding for an MRI machine. The Ombudsman made recommendations to improve the municipality’s closed meeting practices and procedures. The Ombudsman recommended that the municipality update its procedure by-law to provide notice of special meetings and to create a process for adding items to the meeting agenda.
The Ombudsman reviewed a closed meeting held by council for the City of Owen Sound that relied on the personal matters exception to discuss withdrawing a funding pledge to a local hospital for the purchase of an MRI machine. During the discussion, the mayor mentioned meeting with an identified individual from local health services. The Ombudsman found that a passing reference or general remark made about a meeting between a member of council and a member of the public in his or her professional capacity does not bring a discussion within the parameters of the personal matters exception.