Ombudsman says closed meeting between Petrolia and YMCA illegal

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Ontario’s Ombudsman says Petrolia town councillors should not have met privately with YMCA officials just because the sensitive information could have led to public speculation.
The Independent of Petrolia and Central Lambton first filed a complaint against the municipality Oct. 25 saying Petrolia council improperly talked about the issue in private session. Council came out of an in-camera session and announced it had a memorandum of understanding for the YMCA to take over the operation of the Oil Heritage District Community Centre. It was the first the public learned of the discussions.
Later, two other citizens questioned the legality of those private meetings and the Nov. 14 meeting which led to resignation of then CAO Manny Baron and the decision to launch an investigation into the conduct of Councillor Grant Purdy.
The Ombudsman’s office investigated the meetings for five months.
In his report released late Tuesday, Paul Dubé, said portions of all three meetings could rightly be held in camera (without the public present) because personnel and personel issues about OHDCC staff and Purdy were being discussed.
But Dubé says there was no need for the presentation from the YMCA staff on Sept. 11, 2017 to be in camera. “During the presentation by YMCA staff, no employees or labour information were discussed. Instead, the presentation focused on the YMCA’s operating model and processes and how those might be applied in Petrolia. The presentation itself did not cover employment issues,” writes Dubé.

The Ombudsman also called for clear statements of what councillors are discussing in private – not just a file number and a one or two word reason of why the matter should be private – and removal of $250 fee when people ask for an investigation into council’s action. Town staff say they have not charged for the fee, since the Ombudsman’s service is free, however it is still on the town’s fee schedule.

Councillors review the report at council Monday night.

For more on the report, pick up your copy of The Independent, on newstands around Central Lambton now.