Watchdog holds London as good example

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It was the fourth most complained about city in Ontario, but London had a squeaky clean record with the province’s public watchdog last year.

The Ontario Ombudsman had more than 77 complaints about London and its council in 2016-17, but didn’t uncover any problems.

That’s a stark difference from a few years ago, when then-­ombudsman Andre Marin investigated former mayor Joe Fontana and six other city councillors, declaring a lunch at Billy T’s was a secret, illegal meeting.

Four years later, London was held up as a positive example in the ombudsman’s annual report for its appropriate use of closed door meetings and the decision to begin recording those sessions.

The volume of complaints in London was eclipsed only by Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. But London is the province’s sixth largest city, so the numbers aren’t out of line.

Coun. Josh Morgan, acting mayor this week, said his focus is not on the investigations, but the results. “The more important stat is how many (investigations) led to repercussions or a mistake or some sort of suggestion for best practice improvement by the ombudsman,” he said. “None of our alleged violations were deemed illegal.”

The ombudsman oversight of municipalities was expanded in 2016 to everything from politicians’ conduct to bylaw enforcement.

“I certainly embrace the process of the ombudsman,” Morgan said. “When people make a complaint, it’s tested and investigated.” When the watchdog launches a probe in London, the city makes that information public on its website.

This council faced three investigations in 2016:

  • A May 17 closed session where politicians discussed appointing an integrity commissioner.
  • A June 23 closed meeting where politicians discussed the integrity commissioner’s report about the conduct of Mayor Matt Brown and Coun. Maureen Cassidy.
  • A July closed meeting where politicians talked about moving city services to Citi Plaza from Market Tower.

Ombudsman Paul Dube didn’t highlight issues. But the last investigation prompted council to record all closed-door meetings. 

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