Letter to Ted McMeekin, MPP, Regarding Illegal Closed Meetings by Hamilton Library Board

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Mr. McMeekin,

I thank you for your quick response to my social media communication to you late Friday evening.

I write you as my local member of the governing party in regards to a loophole between three Acts which provides no mechanism for enforcement of the open meeting requirement by Ontario’s public library boards.

I ask that the government close this loophole by either amending the Municipal Act or the Public Libraries Act to provide for the Ontario Ombudsman to be the closed meeting investigator for library boards the same as other local boards and agencies, while allowing for the maintaining of the exceptions for police boards which are subject to the oversight of the Ontario Civilian Police Commission in regards to closed meetings.

The Hamilton Library Board is governed by both the Municipal Act and the Public Libraries Act.

Section 1 of the Municipal Act defines a public library board as a “local board” for the purposes of the Act.

Section 238 exempts library boards from Section 239 of the Municipal Act.

Section 16 of the Public Libraries Act requires that library board meetings are open to the public, with Section 16(4) providing for exemptions which are the exact same as those provided for municipalities in Section 239 of the Municipal Act.

There is no provision for investigation of closed meetings under the Public Libraries Act. The Ombudsman Act Section 14.1 exempts library boards and police boards from the oversight of the Ontario Ombudsman citing the provision of Section 238 of the Municipal Act.

Violations of Act by Hamilton Library Board

The following statement is included as part of September 16, 2016 agenda package of the Hamilton Public Library Board:

“That the Hamilton Public Library Board ratifies the electronic vote that took place between August 8 and August 11, 2016 to increase funding to the Binbrook and Dundas projects”

As you are aware as the former Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing, the Ontario Ombudsman and other jurisprudence have declared that open meeting requirements apply to electronic meetings and votes. Specifically, public notice of the open meeting is required, the meeting must be fully accessible to the public, and votes must be conducted in public.

The Hamilton Public Library Board’s policy 6.0 states “Board meetings are open to the public except for in-camera sessions and individual committee meetings.”

This is a direct violation of Section 16 of the Public Libraries Act which states:

Open and closed meetings

16.1 (1) In this section,

“committee” means any advisory or other committee, subcommittee or similar entity of which at least 50 per cent of the members are also members of the board; (“comité”)

“meeting” means any regular, special, committee or other meeting of the board. (“réunion”) 2002, c. 17, Sched. C, s. 24 (5).

Open meetings

(2) Except as provided in this section, all meetings shall be open to the public. 2002, c. 17, Sched. C, s. 24 (5).

Clearly, the Hamilton Library Board cannot declare that committee meetings are closed to the public, when the Legislative Assembly has specifically directed that board committees are required to be open.

The Hamilton Library Board held illegally closed committee meetings on June 22, 2016, and on September 7, 2016.

Oversight

I submit to you as my local government MPP, that the Public Libraries Act should be reviewed to include the provision of a closed meeting investigator similar to the Municipal Act and that the Ontario Ombudsman should be assigned the role as exists in the Municipal Act.

Ontario’s public library boards are the stewards of hundreds of millions of dollars per year in funds collected by taxes. They are wonderfully governed by boards which bring passionate citizen volunteers together to advance knowledge in our society, and libraries are at the forefront of many great public initiatives. The boards provide valuable public service at a minimal cost.

Extending closed meeting investigation powers of the Ontario Ombudsman to these bodies will ensure that open meetings are open to the public, and that public confidence in library boards is not diminished by poor practices which can develop in the absence of proper independent oversight.

The violations of Section 16 by the Hamilton Public Library Board on June 22, between August 8 and 11, and on September 7 do not appear to be of ill intent. They appear to be the result of practices which have developed in the absence of the necessary mechanisms of review provided by having an independent body.

Having an closed meeting investigator will ensure Section 16 is not inadvertently violated by Ontario’s public library boards, violations which can undermine the intent of the Legislative Assembly in creating the open meeting requirement of Section 16.

Municipalities benefit from the reports of the Ontario Ombudsman in providing guidance to ensure compliance with open meeting requirements, especially in matters which approach the reasons provided in exceptions to open meeting requirements. With the notable exception of Hamilton and a few others, Ontario’s 444 municipalities have improved their governance procedures to ensure open meetings are open to the public.

From the debates in the Legislative Assembly, the Ombudsman Act Section 14.1 exception was primarily created to avoid an overlap in oversight between the three police accountability agencies (OPIRD, OCPC, SIU) and the Ombudsman. There are no similar accountability agencies for public library boards, creating a glaring loophole in oversight. I’ll note that the City of Toronto Act contains a similar exception for the Toronto library board, indicating that the Legislative Assembly did consider the interaction of oversight with library boards in the past and the 14.1 exception matter was carefully considered in the past.

Please note that I’m cc’ing the office of my local MPP in her role as my representative at Queen’s Park, and not in her role as Leader of the Third Party. I’m also including the secretary of the Hamilton Library Board to ensure this board is aware of the correspondence.

Thank you for your consideration of this correspondence,

Joey Coleman
Journalist, www.thepublicrecord.ca

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