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Ombudsman finds Kawartha Lakes task force violated open meeting rules

DAN CEARNS The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: The Ontario Ombudsman has found the Kawartha Lakes’ Off-Road Vehicle Task Force contravened the Municipal Act.

In a recently released report, Ombudsman Paul Dubé stated, “two working group meetings” the task force held violated the “open meeting rules found in the Municipal Act.” The report points to the fact these meetings “were not open to the public.”

According to the report, the Ombudsman’s Office received a complaint in September, about meetings held on February 19th, 2021 and March 4th, 2021. They then told the City of Kawartha Lakes that in November 2021, they would begin an investigation of this complaint.

“Members of my Office’s open meeting team reviewed relevant portions of the City’s procedure by-law and the Act. We also reviewed the Task Force’s Terms of Reference and meeting records,” the Ombudsman wrote. “We interviewed the Chair, Vice-Chair, and Recording Secretary of the Task Force. We also interviewed the City’s Clerk and Chief Administrative Officer.”

He added, the investigation saw all parties give their “full co-operation in this matter.”

The task forces’ terms-of-reference-document stated they were prohibited from holding closed meetings.

The Ombudsman provided his analysis of each of the meetings in question.

“On February 19th, 2021, the Task Force held a regular meeting, live-streamed on YouTube. All seven members were in attendance. At the end of this meeting, the Chair indicated, the Task Force members would meet for a working group meeting shortly after. As the Task Force did not consider this working group meeting to be subject to the Act’s open meeting requirements, notice was not provided to the public, and the public was not able to attend,” his report red.

He stated, members “discussed the feasibility of using certain municipal roads as trail linkages for off-road vehicles” at the working group meeting, and thus “the members materially advanced the business of the Task Force.”

“As the Task Force did not consider any part of the working group meeting to be subject to the [Municipal] Act’s open meeting requirements, no notice of the meeting was provided, formal minutes were not kept, and the public was not allowed to attend the meeting. This contravened the Act’s open meeting requirements,” the Ombudsman wrote.

He then moved on to discussing the March meeting.

“At 10:02 a.m., on March 4th, 2021, the Task Force held a working group meeting. As the Task Force did not consider this meeting to be subject to the Act’s open meeting requirements, notice was not provided to the public, and the public was not able to attend. According to the notes from the meeting, five of the seven members were in attendance. Afterwards, at 11 a.m., the Task Force held a regular meeting, live-streamed on YouTube,” the report explained.

The Ombudsman found this working group meeting also should have been a public meeting, as it “materially advanced the Task Force’s business and decision-making, since it led to recommendations about off-road vehicles later presented to council.”

The Ombudsman then made several recommendations for the City of Kawartha Lakes going forward. One included, all task force members “should be vigilant, in adhering to their individual and collective obligation, to ensure compliance with their responsibilities under the Municipal Act.” He said he also feels these members “should ensure, any discussion, in which a quorum of members discusses a matter in a way [which] materially advances the task force’s business or decision-making, is recognized as a meeting subject to the open meeting rules.” Lastly, he suggested the City “provide future task forces with support and training regarding the closed meeting provisions of the Municipal Act.”

The task force reviewed the use of municipal roads for off-road vehicles, such as ATVs, to link to trails. The task force has since been dissolved as they’ve achieved their goals.

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