This is a continuation of my post from yesterday.
Since I wrote about the events surrounding the Ontario Ombudsman Andre Marin’s investigation of 6 members of City Council surrounding the lunch at the Harmony Buffet and the agreement made Tuesday on an 8-6 vote to grant legal counsel on the taxpayer’s dollar for the investigation, several things have developed.
First, it has come to light that Councillor Swan submitted this letter, dated March 26 2012, to the Finance and Administration Committee, titled Re: Complaints to the Ombudsman Office.
The letter outlines the fact that Council has been/is the subject of multiple investigations by the Ombudsman’s office, and comments that the citizens must still be able to make complaints while Council has the right to fair representation. Councillor Swan requests that City staff report to Council on several points he outlines; among the options he wants covered is the ability to retain legal counsel and the ability for Council members to recuse themselves from an Ombudsman investigation. My impression from this is, he’s confusing an Ombudsman investigation with a legal investigation, something the Ombudsman is seeking to clear up (more on this below). He concludes that review of the complaints process is warranted, and if the “complaint process gets immersed in frivolous complaints” the ability for Council to properly do their job may be in jeopardy. This to me is similar to comments Councillor Orser has made speculating that the Ombudsman’s office has become a “retaliatory weapon” for those that don’t agree with decisions made by the 6 that were at the lunch, and Councillor Henderson’s “sore losers” comment. These kinds of comments are disrespectful to the Ontario Ombudsman and the office he holds, by insinuating he takes on investigations lightly/would allow his office to become a political weapon, especially when the entire point of his office is to have investigations performed by a disinterested third party.
Secondly, 4 members of Council including the mayor have been interviewed by London radio CJBK on the buffet event (and other topics). These comments were made by Councillor Henderson, who was at the lunch:
This is major for London, and London’s got to be happy with the present Council because we’re doing more democracy than there is in the federal and provincial governments right now, they can all get together at their caucus meetings and talk about anything without the Free Press there, and they can come back to government and pass laws, provincial can do it on the party system, provincially and federally we can do it as a caucus meeting, and we’re not allowed to as city councillors, can’t have coffee with three different people, at lunch after a meeting and even talk about Council, and that’s crazy!
Talking about complaints to the Ombudsman, Councillor Henderson says:
…They can call up the Ombudsman, the Ombudsman now can trigger a whole bunch of lawyers and come down, take me to court without a lawyer, for heaven’s sake, but if I don’t want to see him, he can subpoena me to go in, and this is a police state…
These comments were made by Councillor Hubert (who wasn’t at the lunch, and voted against taxpayers cover the legal counsel):
…Tell the truth. You do not need a lawyer to tell the truth. If there is nothing inappropriate about the lunch and the conversation that happened there, just answer the questions, clearly, and fairly and accurately, and truthfully…That was not a City of London luncheon, and that not to be doing City business, henceforth, why should the City, and hence Londoners, be on the hook to pay for the legal counsel emanating out of their private decisions? When we meet as Counsel and we make a decision, and someone comes after us or sues us or alleges wrongdoing, then it’s appropriate because we’re acting as Council, not as individuals but as Council, duly elected, then it’s appropriate for the indemnification by-law to be used for legal assistance.
The radio conversations and Councillor Swan’s letter are good indications of the confusion swirling around the Ombudsman’s report, the need for legal counsel, and indeed the purpose of the Ombudsman and his office. For the second day in a row, the Ombudsman has posted to Twitter in response to comments made by Londoners/Council, including a Twitter conversation I was having with another citizen. The Ombudsman posted:
I think it’s time for me to go meet w London city council./Will b writing to London city council to b invited to present on OO and to slay some of the misconceptions floating around.
He later posted: “We’ve received good cooperation in our closed mtg investig. in
Posters on Twitter (including myself) asked if this means he’ll be personally in town for discussions with City Council, (as I understand it, so far members of his staff are performing the interviews) and asked him if he could join us for lunch/dinner while he’s here. His reply was an enthusiastic “I’m in!”, so hoping that we will be able to sit down with him and discuss everything swirling around this issue, as well as hear his presentation to City Council.
Since I posted this, Ombudsman Marin published this message on his website, sharing a letter submitted to London City Council asking for the opportunity to meet with Council at an upcoming meeting to answer any questions and clear up any concerns Council members may have concerning his office’s closed meeting investigations.
April 18: The Ombudsman has posted on Twitter that he’ll be before London City Council 4pm Monday June 24 to discuss the Sunshine Law.