West Lincoln violated procedural bylaw, ombudsman finds Complaints filed over June closed sessions Grimsby Lincoln News By Amanda Moore
WEST LINCOLN — While West Lincoln council met the exception to go in-camera to discuss a bylaw enforcement issue June 15, the discussions never should have taken place at the meeting the Ontario Ombudsman finds.
Under the Municipal Act, all meetings of council, local boards and committees of council must be open to the public, unless they fall within prescribed exemptions. These exemptions include discussions on identifiable individuals, legal matters and solicitor-client privilege.
The office of the Ombudsman received three complaints over in-camera sessions held by township council June 15 and 22 to discuss a confidential legal matter stemming from the township's site alteration bylaw. Acting Ombudsman Barbara Finlay notified the township of her intent to investigate the allegations in July and a completed report was submitted last month.
While Finlay found that while the discussions that occurred on June 15 and 22 behind closed doors did not violate the Ontario Municipal Act, the township violated the Act when it failed to state by resolution the general nature of the matters to be considered in camera.
Finlay also concluded the township violated its own procedural bylaw in adding the discussion to the agenda as an item of new business. Finlay said the matter, which was introduced by Coun. Terry Bell, did not require immediate attention and could have been added to the published agenda for the next month's meeting. Finlay also noted the township is not following best practices in indicating which of the closed meeting exceptions apply to each matter and recommended the township clearly specify this in the future.
Finlay also recommended all members of council be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligations to ensure the township is in compliance with its responsibilities under the Municipal Act and that it passes a resolution that includes not only the fact that there is a closed meeting but the nature of subject matter to be discussed when proceeding to closed session.
Stefanos Karatopis was one of three complainants. He said he thought the proposed bylaw had been shelved and was surprised to see it back on the agenda, as an in camera nonetheless. Karatopis said he was pleased to see the Ombudsman agreed there was some mishandling of the discussions.
Karatopis said the bylaw infringes on the rights of West Lincoln property owners. "Constitutionally, we are allowed to use our properties as we see fit," he said. "This is outside the scope of their authority."