Investigation into Illegal Closed Council Meetings
Under the Municipal Act, council meetings may only be closed under certain conditions:
- The security of property of the municipality or local board;
- Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including employees;
- A proposed or pending acquisition or disposition of land;
- Labour relations or employee negotiations;
- Litigation or potential litigation
- Advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege;
- A matter authorized by another provincial statute;
- If Council is the “Head” and the subject matter relates to a request under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; or
- The meeting is held for educating and training and no member discusses or deals with a matter in a way that materially advances the business or decision-making of the council or local board.”
Much research has already been posted, particularly the history of the attempts to sell Don Maynard Park.
The recent investigation of complaints of illegal closed council meetings engaged several layers of bureaucracy. The Ombudsman’s authority to investigate is delegated to “LAS” (Local Authority Services), a service for Ontario municipal governments which was assigned the closed council investigations for Mississippi Mills. Then LAS delegated the investigation to a private firm called Amberley Gavel Ltd. Four levels of bureaucracy (Ombudsman, LAS, Amberley Gavel and the Municipality) were involved in this “to save money.” Council meetings, closed or public, must be advertised in advance to the public.
The provincial laws need more teeth: note that although the investigation found a number of illegal closed meetings (and only investigated those that received complaints), not a thing changed and no sanctions were imposed. At the meeting where the results of the investigation were – briefly – aired, Councillor McCubbin asked the Clerk, Shawna Stone, if any decisions would therefore be changed as a result, and the Clerk replied that they would not. The November 1, 2016 “working group” meeting in particular concerned Don Maynard Park: not a single elected Almonte councillor took part in that decision.
Read the investigation here: Amberley Gavel Closed Council Investigation Report
Bike Lanes Research
When the bike lanes were installed in May 2017 against the protest of most affected residents, it seemed that they were very rarely used. Some motorists like them because they could drive faster down Ottawa Street.
Any contrary information at the so-called public meeting was not allowed to be heard. For example, the Ministry of Transportation strongly urged communities to spend a lot of time “selling” such lanes in cities, and getting buy-in and reciprocal benefits from affected homeowners. That was not the way things unfolded in Almonte. Residents were not allowed to present any argument against them. The decision was made by a group called the “Active Transportation Committee” that are, in practice, the “Bicycle Committee:” most members are also avid cycling hobbyists.
Residents along affected streets were never consulted.
I decided that once school came back in, I would run a study to see how many cyclists actually use the lanes. We set up a camera to capture how many cyclists there were, and whether they used the lanes properly or not. I thought I’d compare the number to the number of people walking along the cracked and spray-painted narrow sidewalks, to get an idea whether this Council had its priorities straight.
I am not against cycling. I believe that there should be a posted safe cycling route instead; I have spoken with avid cyclists who agree. However, I would never dream of imposing it without consultation with affected residents. It is a very serious matter to take away parking from residents without their agreement. You do not build bridges in your community that way.
My study took place over about 3 weeks in September and October of 2017. It is the only data that I have seen on the subject in a year; the municipality and active transportation committee published nothing.
The weather was warm, as you will see; I kept a record of the temperatures on most days. I also have photographic evidence to back up my counts. See my table of numbers here: Bicycle Lane Use Ottawa Street Sept-Oct 2017
The maximum number of cyclists recorded in a day was 6. The maximum number of pedestrians was 109.
There have been conflicts of interest related to the Heritage Conservation District that were discovered by PRATAC’s investigation: some members of Council voted on decisions affecting property that they or a family member owned in the area, potentially receiving enhanced benefits as a result.
An example of one attempt at the suppression of free speech in the public interest is something called a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” This Council made a decision to fund one in a closed council meeting. Since the lawsuit was a private action by two individuals on the Council, why did this Council agree to fund them? Given that the two who launched the personal suit could not vote on it, at least 5 of the remaining 9 council had to have agreed to use your money to help them. Did the closed council meeting in meet the criteria listed above? Remember, this was not a lawsuit brought against the council or one that the municipality started under its authority. Justice Pedlar ruled that municipalities cannot sue for defamation Montague (Township) v. Page, 2006 CanLII 2192 (ON SC)
Mr Justice Patrick Hurley dismissed the action as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, quoting Justice Pedlar. The facts are set out here: MCLAUGHLIN and EDWARDS v. MAYNARD, 2017 ONSC 6820 (CanLII)
The total charged to your account is unknown.
There were other concerns, too many to list here. The most worrying to me have been the attacks on democracy: appointing a councillor instead of selecting the next person elected; attempts to suppress free speech, public comment, the press and association. Did you know that the Procedural Bylaw of the 2014-2018 council does not permit even the media to record a PUBLIC council meeting for the record? Journalist Ashley Kulp commented on the issues of the past few years and was hopeful that the communications consultant report would provide solutions: Communication is Key Ashley Kulp Aug 3 2017
Mississippi Mills does not have an Integrity Commissioner, but will for 2019.