- Anne Finlay-Stewart, Editor

At the September meeting of Owen Sound's Downtown Improvement Area (DIA) board, the coordinator said the board had received notice of a complaint to the Ontario Ombudsman. She said it would likely result in a "slap on the fingers", and that appears to have arrived today.

According to the Municipal Act, meetings must be open, held in full public view, with very specific exceptions. Essentially the complaint was that a particular meeting did not meet any of those exceptions, and should not have been a closed meeting. The Ombudsman agreed with the complainant.

We have spoken before in the Owen Sound Hub about our belief in the importance of the City following proper process, and its Boards are no different.
The DIA board acts on behalf of approximately three hundred downtown residents, property owners and businesses and manages the levy these members pay of approximately $230,000 over and above their property taxes. They are also accountable to the membership for the work of the DIA staff.

The board has had no elections for at least seven years, according to its Chair, and there are two City Council representatives, currently Marion Koepke and Brian O'Leary, and a senior City staff member at the table. It is their responsibility to know the Municipal Act rules and to see that they are followed at meetings.

When we asked about that responsibility in this case, we had this response from Marion Koepke, former City Clerk and city councillor for the past four years:

" In my opinion, I think the letter could have been placed on the open agenda for receipt, discussion and a response. ...This is, in no way, a disagreement with the Administrative Assistant and Chair on their choice to deal with the letter in the manner in which they did at the time."

The letter Ms. Koepke acknowledges was the subject of the closed meeting was published in the Owen Sound Hub. It was, ironically, about openness and transparency of the DIA. It was discussed at an open city council meeting at which Councillor Greig thanked the writer, and Councillor O'Leary said the letter had "no truth".  We wrote about that in the Hub too.

We do not agree that the closed meeting exceptions under the Municipal Act are a matter of choice. It is the responsibility of those with experience with the Act to speak up in a meeting they feel contravenes it.
That would include all City representatives.

Here is the Ombudsman's response:

"The Ombudsman received a complaint about the August 8, 2018 closed meeting of the board of directors for the Owen Sound Downtown Improvement Area. The complaint alleged that the board's discussion about its response to an open letter did not fit within the "personal matters" closed meeting exception in the Municipal Act, 2001. The complaint also alleged that the DIA provided insufficient notice of four meetings that occurred in the summer of 2018. The Ombudsman found that the closed session discussion did not fit within the exceptions for closed meetings set out in the Municipal Act. He also found that the DIA complied with the notice requirements in its procedure by-law, although until recently, its website provided inaccurate information about the board's meeting schedule."
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