Ombudsman had 61 complaints about Hamilton sewage spill

News Jul 02, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

Hamilton had the third highest number of citizen complaints filed to the ombudsman office over alleged government misdeeds, according to the provincial oversight agency’s 2019-20 annual report.

The city had 154 complaints against it, with Toronto accumulating 404 complaints and Ottawa 200.

Linda Williamson, director of communication for the ombudsman office, said the complaints were about “general issues” in Hamilton and not about closed meetings.

“We do not provide a breakdown of complaints by municipality,” she said.

But Hamilton did receive 61 complaints over the period of April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 that the report covers, related to the city’s 24-billion litres of sewage that was spilled into the Chedoke River over a four-year period. The ombudsman’s 90-page annual report states the complaints focused on councillors and the city refusing to disclose the volume and duration of the spill.

The ombudsman's office is continuing to review various information about the spill, including talking to officials with the provincial environment ministry. The report stated that once its review is finished, “the Ombudsman will assess whether an investigation is warranted.”

The top five topics that citizens appealed to the ombudsman’s office about municipalities were: 392 complaints about councils and committees; 382 for housing; 327 for bylaw enforcement; 175 for infrastructure; and 146 for planning/zoning

The ombudsman report said the office received 77 Hamilton citizen complaints about councillors holding two offsite committee meetings in February 2019, which was documented in the agency’s previous annual report. Councillors held two offsite committee meetings in Niagara-on-the-Lake at White Oaks Resort and Spa to discuss hiring a new city manager.

The ombudsman, Paul Dube, stated in the 2019-20 report that the 77 complaints were the highest number the agency had received for a single closed meeting case.

While Dube found the two offsite meetings did not violate the Municipal Act, he did state that a “portion” of the first offsite meeting at the resort was “illegal” because there was no notice to the public that it could attend the open part of the meeting.

Four Hamilton residents arrived at the resort Feb. 9 to attend the committee meeting that the website stated began at 9 a.m. But the residents were turned away by resort staff.

Prior to the meeting, an email had been set out by the city that identified only certain individuals could attend the meeting.

The meeting actually began at 8:30 a.m. rather than the scheduled meeting time of 9 a.m.

A reporter for Hamilton Community News was also hustled off the resort’s property after finding the room where the committee was meeting was closed to the public.

The ombudsman said the open portion of the first meeting “was illegally closed to the public due to a ‘breakdown in communication’ between the city, its recruitment firm and the venue.”

The second meeting did hold a brief public portion before being closed to the public.

The ombudsman, in his report, recommended that council members “be vigilant in ensuring that the open meeting rules are followed (and) public notice is provided for all committee meetings.

The annual report also identified Hamilton for locking its doors to city hall, preventing the public to enter and watch the Feb. 14, 2019 council meeting. And during the meeting of the city’s audit, finance and administration committee April 18, 2019, the doors to city hall were blocked by temporary barricades.

The ombudsman report said the city “acknowledged” the doors were locked and blocked and “subsequently adopted a formal procedure to prevent this in the future.”

In 2018, four new exceptions were added to the Municipal Act for councillors to hold in camera meetings, including information explicitly supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board by the Canadian government, province, territory or Crown agency; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial or financial information that belongs to the municipality and has monetary value; or a position, plan, procedure, criterial or instruction to be applied to any negotiation. Councillors can already go behind closed doors based on seven exceptions, including personnel matters, pending acquisition, legal advice and a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Hamilton became the first council to use one of the new provisions to discuss — behind closed doors during a Jan. 16, 2019 general issues committee meeting  partnering with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on formulating a plan to bid to host the Grey Cup.

While there were a number of complaints from residents about councillors meeting in camera on the issue, the ombudsman found the meetings followed the new rules.

The ombudsman’s report stated that the number of complaints about closed meetings reached a “new low” with 54 complaints received. Dube’s office found that five of the 26 meetings reviewed violated the Municipal Act, a drop from the previous year, when 12 of 46 meetings were found to have done so.

Since 2018, all municipalities are required to have a code of conduct policy in place and have access to an integrity commissioner.

“Citizens now have more avenues to hold local officials to account, which may make them less likely to complain about closed meetings,” stated the ombudsman’s report.

Hamilton has third highest citizen complaints, according to Ombudsman report

News Jul 02, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

Hamilton had the third highest number of citizen complaints filed to the ombudsman office over alleged government misdeeds, according to the provincial oversight agency’s 2019-20 annual report.

The city had 154 complaints against it, with Toronto accumulating 404 complaints and Ottawa 200.

Linda Williamson, director of communication for the ombudsman office, said the complaints were about “general issues” in Hamilton and not about closed meetings.

“We do not provide a breakdown of complaints by municipality,” she said.

Related Content

But Hamilton did receive 61 complaints over the period of April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 that the report covers, related to the city’s 24-billion litres of sewage that was spilled into the Chedoke River over a four-year period. The ombudsman’s 90-page annual report states the complaints focused on councillors and the city refusing to disclose the volume and duration of the spill.

The ombudsman's office is continuing to review various information about the spill, including talking to officials with the provincial environment ministry. The report stated that once its review is finished, “the Ombudsman will assess whether an investigation is warranted.”

The top five topics that citizens appealed to the ombudsman’s office about municipalities were: 392 complaints about councils and committees; 382 for housing; 327 for bylaw enforcement; 175 for infrastructure; and 146 for planning/zoning

The ombudsman report said the office received 77 Hamilton citizen complaints about councillors holding two offsite committee meetings in February 2019, which was documented in the agency’s previous annual report. Councillors held two offsite committee meetings in Niagara-on-the-Lake at White Oaks Resort and Spa to discuss hiring a new city manager.

The ombudsman, Paul Dube, stated in the 2019-20 report that the 77 complaints were the highest number the agency had received for a single closed meeting case.

While Dube found the two offsite meetings did not violate the Municipal Act, he did state that a “portion” of the first offsite meeting at the resort was “illegal” because there was no notice to the public that it could attend the open part of the meeting.

Four Hamilton residents arrived at the resort Feb. 9 to attend the committee meeting that the website stated began at 9 a.m. But the residents were turned away by resort staff.

Prior to the meeting, an email had been set out by the city that identified only certain individuals could attend the meeting.

The meeting actually began at 8:30 a.m. rather than the scheduled meeting time of 9 a.m.

A reporter for Hamilton Community News was also hustled off the resort’s property after finding the room where the committee was meeting was closed to the public.

The ombudsman said the open portion of the first meeting “was illegally closed to the public due to a ‘breakdown in communication’ between the city, its recruitment firm and the venue.”

The second meeting did hold a brief public portion before being closed to the public.

The ombudsman, in his report, recommended that council members “be vigilant in ensuring that the open meeting rules are followed (and) public notice is provided for all committee meetings.

The annual report also identified Hamilton for locking its doors to city hall, preventing the public to enter and watch the Feb. 14, 2019 council meeting. And during the meeting of the city’s audit, finance and administration committee April 18, 2019, the doors to city hall were blocked by temporary barricades.

The ombudsman report said the city “acknowledged” the doors were locked and blocked and “subsequently adopted a formal procedure to prevent this in the future.”

In 2018, four new exceptions were added to the Municipal Act for councillors to hold in camera meetings, including information explicitly supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board by the Canadian government, province, territory or Crown agency; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial or financial information that belongs to the municipality and has monetary value; or a position, plan, procedure, criterial or instruction to be applied to any negotiation. Councillors can already go behind closed doors based on seven exceptions, including personnel matters, pending acquisition, legal advice and a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Hamilton became the first council to use one of the new provisions to discuss — behind closed doors during a Jan. 16, 2019 general issues committee meeting  partnering with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on formulating a plan to bid to host the Grey Cup.

While there were a number of complaints from residents about councillors meeting in camera on the issue, the ombudsman found the meetings followed the new rules.

The ombudsman’s report stated that the number of complaints about closed meetings reached a “new low” with 54 complaints received. Dube’s office found that five of the 26 meetings reviewed violated the Municipal Act, a drop from the previous year, when 12 of 46 meetings were found to have done so.

Since 2018, all municipalities are required to have a code of conduct policy in place and have access to an integrity commissioner.

“Citizens now have more avenues to hold local officials to account, which may make them less likely to complain about closed meetings,” stated the ombudsman’s report.

Hamilton has third highest citizen complaints, according to Ombudsman report

News Jul 02, 2020 by Kevin Werner Stoney Creek News

Hamilton had the third highest number of citizen complaints filed to the ombudsman office over alleged government misdeeds, according to the provincial oversight agency’s 2019-20 annual report.

The city had 154 complaints against it, with Toronto accumulating 404 complaints and Ottawa 200.

Linda Williamson, director of communication for the ombudsman office, said the complaints were about “general issues” in Hamilton and not about closed meetings.

“We do not provide a breakdown of complaints by municipality,” she said.

Related Content

But Hamilton did receive 61 complaints over the period of April 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020 that the report covers, related to the city’s 24-billion litres of sewage that was spilled into the Chedoke River over a four-year period. The ombudsman’s 90-page annual report states the complaints focused on councillors and the city refusing to disclose the volume and duration of the spill.

The ombudsman's office is continuing to review various information about the spill, including talking to officials with the provincial environment ministry. The report stated that once its review is finished, “the Ombudsman will assess whether an investigation is warranted.”

The top five topics that citizens appealed to the ombudsman’s office about municipalities were: 392 complaints about councils and committees; 382 for housing; 327 for bylaw enforcement; 175 for infrastructure; and 146 for planning/zoning

The ombudsman report said the office received 77 Hamilton citizen complaints about councillors holding two offsite committee meetings in February 2019, which was documented in the agency’s previous annual report. Councillors held two offsite committee meetings in Niagara-on-the-Lake at White Oaks Resort and Spa to discuss hiring a new city manager.

The ombudsman, Paul Dube, stated in the 2019-20 report that the 77 complaints were the highest number the agency had received for a single closed meeting case.

While Dube found the two offsite meetings did not violate the Municipal Act, he did state that a “portion” of the first offsite meeting at the resort was “illegal” because there was no notice to the public that it could attend the open part of the meeting.

Four Hamilton residents arrived at the resort Feb. 9 to attend the committee meeting that the website stated began at 9 a.m. But the residents were turned away by resort staff.

Prior to the meeting, an email had been set out by the city that identified only certain individuals could attend the meeting.

The meeting actually began at 8:30 a.m. rather than the scheduled meeting time of 9 a.m.

A reporter for Hamilton Community News was also hustled off the resort’s property after finding the room where the committee was meeting was closed to the public.

The ombudsman said the open portion of the first meeting “was illegally closed to the public due to a ‘breakdown in communication’ between the city, its recruitment firm and the venue.”

The second meeting did hold a brief public portion before being closed to the public.

The ombudsman, in his report, recommended that council members “be vigilant in ensuring that the open meeting rules are followed (and) public notice is provided for all committee meetings.

The annual report also identified Hamilton for locking its doors to city hall, preventing the public to enter and watch the Feb. 14, 2019 council meeting. And during the meeting of the city’s audit, finance and administration committee April 18, 2019, the doors to city hall were blocked by temporary barricades.

The ombudsman report said the city “acknowledged” the doors were locked and blocked and “subsequently adopted a formal procedure to prevent this in the future.”

In 2018, four new exceptions were added to the Municipal Act for councillors to hold in camera meetings, including information explicitly supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board by the Canadian government, province, territory or Crown agency; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial, financial or labour relations information supplied in confidence to the municipality or local board; a trade secret or scientific, technical, commercial or financial information that belongs to the municipality and has monetary value; or a position, plan, procedure, criterial or instruction to be applied to any negotiation. Councillors can already go behind closed doors based on seven exceptions, including personnel matters, pending acquisition, legal advice and a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Hamilton became the first council to use one of the new provisions to discuss — behind closed doors during a Jan. 16, 2019 general issues committee meeting  partnering with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats on formulating a plan to bid to host the Grey Cup.

While there were a number of complaints from residents about councillors meeting in camera on the issue, the ombudsman found the meetings followed the new rules.

The ombudsman’s report stated that the number of complaints about closed meetings reached a “new low” with 54 complaints received. Dube’s office found that five of the 26 meetings reviewed violated the Municipal Act, a drop from the previous year, when 12 of 46 meetings were found to have done so.

Since 2018, all municipalities are required to have a code of conduct policy in place and have access to an integrity commissioner.

“Citizens now have more avenues to hold local officials to account, which may make them less likely to complain about closed meetings,” stated the ombudsman’s report.