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Ombudsman calls for changes to Woolwich’s closed-door meetings

Woolwich has already changed how it handles closed meetings of council after the Ontario Ombudsman found the township had violated the rules on several occasions.

André Marin’s report, completed in June and tabled at council’s August 11 meeting, includes eight recommendations following his office’s review of the minutes from three specific meeting of councillors (January 13 and 20, February 3) and one meeting of the Chemtura Public Advisory Committee (CPAC) from Aug. 11, 2014).

The Ombudsman found a variety of faults, from failing to notify the public of where the in camera sessions would be held to discussing issues that should have been dealt with in open session.

“The Township of Woolwich should ensure that no subject is discussed in a closed session unless it clearly comes within one of the statutory exceptions to the open meeting requirements,” reads the first of eight recommendations. The list also includes keeping better minutes of both closed and open sessions.

Woolwich clerk Val Hummel described most of the transgressions as “relatively minor.” In each case, the township was found to have called a closed meeting for valid reasons, though the discussion at times strayed away from the topic.

Coun. Murray Martin seemed to find the issues somewhat petty. “I thought that was pretty picky.”

Colleague Patrick Merlihan, however, offered up a mea culpa.

“I apologize to the public for breaking the law in this regard,” he said, noting council would have to be more diligent.

He added that closed meetings seemed to be the norm rather than exception, turning to staff for comparisons to past terms of council.

Chief administrative officer David Brenneman said the number of in camera meetings is dependent on the agenda. The previous council, for instance, had many gravel pit and Ontario Municipal Board legal issues to discuss behind closed doors.

In the vein of better accountability, Hummel noted that local municipalities have been meeting to implement a regional investigator of closed meetings.

The full text of the Ombudsman’s report can be found below:

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