Hamilton City Council Chamber Credit: Joey Coleman / The Public Record

The General Counsel for Ontario’s Ombudsman says the office is investigating an October 24, 2023, meeting of Hamilton City Council’s Selection Committee for Agencies, Boards, and Sub-Committees following a closed meeting violation complaint.

“The Ombudsman’s Open Meetings Team will be investigating this complaint,” writes Laura Pettigrew in a letter dated May 8, 2024.

During this meeting, in closed session, without any public notice and without adding the discussion to the agenda, councillors discussed and decided to change the terms of reference of the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee.

The changes decreased the committee membership, and had the effect of not re-appointing long-standing committee members.

TPR covered this matter when it occurred and filed the closed meeting complaint with the Ombudsman.

The City refused to disclose which council members were present, the meeting minutes do not state which councillors voted, nor how many councillors were present during votes.

October 24, 2023 Meeting

The agenda for the meeting lists one item, “Interviews for Various Agencies, Boards and Sub-Committees.”

No notice for decision-making was provided. Following 5 hours, 42 minutes, and approximately 31 seconds in closed session, councillors emerged to announce they had debated the heritage committee’s terms of reference in closed session and voted to appoint only seven people.

The public portion of the meeting was approximately three and a half minutes. [YouTube link]

Alleged Violations

Council is alleged to have violated open meeting laws by making decisions without following their procedural bylaw, discussing public matters in closed session, and not properly declaring their reasons for entering closed session.

Vagueness of Closed Session

The only item on the agenda was “interviews for Various Agencies, Boards and Sub-Committees.”

The vagueness of the title, on its own, is likely a closed meeting violation.

As Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé recently wrote, “the Act requires council to provide a level of informative detail in its resolution to go into closed session in a way that maximizes the information available to the public without undermining the reason for holding the discussion in closed session.”

By grouping the interviews into an omnibus statement, council provided less detail than they could.

Failure to Disclose Decision Making

Council decided the membership for three local boards and committees; the Knowles Bequest Trust, the Cleanliness and Security in the Downtown Task Force, and the Hamilton Municipal Heritage Committee.

The council did not disclose that they were making decisions before entering closed session, which is a closed meeting violation. The items were not added to the agenda.

Deciding Public Matters in Closed Session

Councillors debated “Amendments to the Terms of Reference for Various Sub-Committees” in closed session. Following the closed session, they voted – without any public debate – to approve amendments they made in closed session.

There are no permissible reasons for Council to debate these policies in secret.

Recent Integrity Commissioner Report on Selection Committee

Ethical violations by at least one member of the Selection Committee were recently investigated by Hamilton’s Integrity Commissioner.

The Commissioner concluded that a committee member leaked confidential discussion information to a member of the Committee of Adjustment, informing him that he would not be re-appointed.

The events of the October 24 meeting was not part of the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation.

Production Details
v. 2.0.0
Published: May 18, 2024
Last updated: May 20, 2024
Author: Joey Coleman
Update Record
v. 1.0.0 original version
v. 2.0.0 CORRECTION - it is the October 24 not October 23 meeting being investigated. Article rewritten to report different meeting.

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