Council to question staff on findings of illegal procedure (Simcoe Reformer)

Council to question staff on findings of illegal procedure (Simcoe Reformer)

May 27, 2016

27 May, 2016

Council was prepared to discuss the findings of Ontario ombudsman Paul Dube at its regular meeting Tuesday. However, two key players in the episode – CAO Keith Robicheau and clerk Andrew Grozelle – were not in attendance.

Monte Sonnenberg
Simcoe Reformer
May 27, 2016

Council was prepared to discuss the findings of Ontario ombudsman Paul Dube at its regular meeting Tuesday. However, two key players in the episode – CAO Keith Robicheau and clerk Andrew Grozelle – were not in attendance.

Port Rowan Coun. Noel Haydt told council he received many phone calls and visits to his office Tuesday after the Reformer reported Dube’s findings concerning an in camera meeting that took place Dec. 1. Haydt suggested council defer the matter until Robicheau and Grozelle were present to answer questions.

Council agreed. The Dube report will appear on the agenda of council’s meeting June 14.

In his report, Dube concluded that Norfolk council conducted public business behind closed doors contrary to the Municipal Act. Norfolk’s contract for legal services was up for renewal at the Dec. 1 meeting and council discussed its options entirely in camera.

When the matter finally came to the council floor, council approved a four-year extension of its current contracts with Hamilton firm Ross & McBride (general legal services) and the Toronto firm Hicks Morley (labour law and negotiations) without comment. This triggered a complaint to Dube’s Open Meeting Law Enforcement Team.

In his report, Dube said there were general matters related to the contract that should have been discussed in public. Though council has yet to formally pronounce on Dube’s findings, there is general agreement on council that its members must be more careful what they discuss in private and how in-camera meetings are communicated to the public.

“I take his (Dube’s) findings very seriously,” Mayor Charlie Luke said after Tuesday’s meeting. “There’s no question that – when there is a complaint and it is upheld – we have to sharpen up. We need to do better and we shall. We will learn from this. I take to heart what our ombudsman says. It’s just about tightening our procedures up a bit.”

Luke added a likely outcome of this exercise is that council will put its legal services contract out for tender when the current contract expires in 2020.

In his 12-page report, Dube said clerk Grozelle wanted to discuss aspects of the contract report in open session but was over-ruled by Robicheau. At Tuesday’s meeting, Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus questioned the need to defer the report, pointing out that council received an in-camera briefing May 17. Columbus said Haydt’s questions would have been answered then had he been in attendance.

Simcoe lawyer Cary Vervaeke, president of the Norfolk Law Association, appreciates the interest Dube took in the matter. Members of the Norfolk Law Association were not pleased that Norfolk council renewed its legal services contracts without tenders or interviewing local firms. The value of these contracts is about $400,000 a year.

On Wednesday, Vervaeke said he does not know who filed the complaint with the ombudsman’s office. He praised council for deferring the issue until Robicheau and Grozelle return for questioning.

“They are two key figures in this,” Vervaeke said. “It’s important that they participate in this process. I’m glad council did that.”

Vervaeke was also heartened by the mayor’s comments regarding public tendering.

“There are lawyers here who are already doing government work – both provincial and federal,” Vervaeke said. “The skills are here to do this.”