I will make one thing very clear: I like the Ombudsman, Andre Marin. I like his outspokenness, I like his style.
What I don’t like is that Middlesex Centre does not utilize the Ombudsman’s services for closed meeting investigations.
Every municipality must have a closed meeting investigator. When the provincial government mandated this, as told me to by Mayor Edmondson and the incumbent, Middlesex Centre chose John Maddox (and his firm JGM Consulting). The rationale? According to the Mayor…
“…the main reason that both the County of Middlesex and Middlesex Centre chose not to go with the Ombudsman at that time was perhaps the fear of having the Province do an investigation if one was required.”
Here is where I stand very far apart from the existing council.
- I want to move Middlesex Centre directly under the jurisdiction of the Ombudsman.
- I want your Council to be accountable for the decisions they make, including whether meetings happen openly or privately.
- I want to put the $1,000 per year retainer we have been paying to JGM Consulting to far better use (e.g. live streaming, which I’m confident can be set up for less than $1,000).
- I want Bill 8 to be passed by the provincial legislature, giving the Ombudsman the powers to oversee and receive complaints over almost any agency that receives public funding.
- And then I will advocate for the province to further strengthen the Ombudsman’s office, and give the Ombudsman the ability to impose penalties if municipal governments are found to have violated closed meeting laws.
Many of us have seen what has happened in London during the past four years with secret meetings happening at Harmony Buffet, Billy T’s, and so on. Unfortunately the Ombudsman can only slap elected representatives on the wrist and tell them not to do it again at this point. The investigations are an effective use of the Ombudsman’s staff’s time, but the end result is disappointing.
And then there’s the potential conflict of interest. I sincerely hope Mr. Maddox would have the integrity to conduct a proper investigation if complaints were filed against Middlesex Centre Council, but personally I find it far easier to simply remove the potential for a conflict of interest in the first place. It’s harder to ask for an unbiased opinion when you’re also footing the bill for it.
That’s why we need a tougher closed meeting law. Not one that prevents Councillors from discussing issues one-on-one if they happen to run into each other, but certainly one that prevents politicians from achieving quorum behind closed doors, outside of the public eye, and then gives them more than a “tisk tisk” when we find out they broke the law. We need a law that actually has teeth when your representatives are found to be out of line. A law that imposes fines and other penalties when the situation calls for it.
So first let’s pass Bill 8. And then let’s get to work making it stronger so that your elected representatives will have more reason than public embarrassment to ensure they are acting in accordance with the law!