Municipalities choose company over ombudsman as closed meeting investigator

Section: 
News

By Barb McKay

 

Two local municipalities are willing to pay a service provider to act as a closed meeting investigator, rather than obtaining the services of the Ontario ombudsman at no cost.

 

Both Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss Township councils decided during meetings last month that they would sign an agreement with Local Authority Services Ltd. (LAS), which contracts the service out to Amberley Gavel Ltd. The expiry date on the agreement is Dec. 31.

 

During its meeting Nov. 20, Kincardine council agreed to renew the municipality’s contract with LAS for $660 for a two-year period and $225 per hour if an investigation is required. LAS was developed by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and Kincardine has had an agreement with the company since 2008.

 

“We are a member of AMO, which helped to establish this, and I think we should support them,” clerk Donna MacDougall said during the meeting.

 

Mayor Larry Kraemer said, to the best of his knowledge, the municipality has never had an investigation against it related to a closed meeting.

 

Councillor Mike Leggett agreed.

 

“Our staff is conscientious about what we go into closed session for, so I don’t think we’ll be going to court,” he said.

 

Local resident and farmer Jutta Splettstoesser, whose family owns properties in Kincardine and Huron-Kinloss, attended Huron-Kinloss’ council meeting last month to encourage council to try using the ombudsman to reduce the cost to taxpayers. The township’s agreement with LAS and Amberley Gavel is also set to expire Dec. 31. It’s costs for a new agreement are similar to Kincardine’s.

 

“I think this is a good time to have a discussion around existing options,” Splettstoesser said. “It is your duty to rethink financial commitments and consider if it makes sense to go with a provider.”

 

She said there is no enrollment fee to use the Ontario ombudsman. The average closed meeting investigation takes 18 hours, Splettstoesser learned, which would cost the township $4,000.

 

Councillor Don Murray said if the township decided to use the ombudsman to handle a closed meeting investigation, staff would have to do all the leg work. With LAS and Amberley Gavel, they do the work.

 

“I think it’s nice to talk to someone who has experience with all three levels of government,” Murray added.