City committee broke the rules, but no malice intended: investigator

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Cornwall city hall

CORNWALL, Ontario - An outside investigator says there was no malice behind a decision made earlier this year by a city committee to move into a closed session, though the Ontario Municipal Act was contravened.

Stephen Fournier was before city council Monday night, to answer questions from councillors about a decision by the waterfront development committee to move behind closed doors for a portion of a meeting in May.

He said while the committee broke the rules, it was likely a product of past practice and an unclear understanding of the rules, as opposed to a decision to openly contravene the act.

“I would not deem it to be a deliberate act,” he said. “It was a sin of omission, not a sin of commission.”

Fournier is recommending city clerk Helen Finn hold a series of orientation meetings with the chairs of city committees to advise them of the rules.

“It was abundantly clear that there was no intention to conduct a closed session…it was a spontaneous event that happened,” he said Monday night. “There was no effort to consider an amendment…to amend the agenda to have a good discussion about having a closed session.

“The committee simply moved into a closed session.”

Many councillors agreed the committee, and the city by association, made a mistake.

Coun. Maurice Dupelle said the city needs to make sure it follows the rules in the future.

“When we have something like this, we should not entertain it…we should have a special meeting the next day,” he said, echoing a similar sentiment from Fournier. “We were at fault this time, and what was done shouldn’t have been done, and we move forward.

“We apologize for that.”

That sentiment was echoed by others.

“I think it’s quite clear that your investigation shows we stepped in the hole and we’re at fault for doing things,” said Coun. Denis Thibault.

Often committee members are not elected officials, but instead volunteers from the community.

The meeting that caused all the fuss took place in May, when the SD and G Historical Society was making a presentation to the committee.

Society curator Ian Bowering took issue with making public comments concerning funding for a project, and also made mention of a legal issue he has with a local website - the operator of which was in attendance at the meeting, said Fournier's report.

The committee voted to go in-camera to hear Bowering's comments behind closed doors, contravening provincial policy, said Fournier.

Fournier has taken issue with other in-camera meetings held by city council, and has taken the municipal body to task on that subject.

Organizations: Historical Society

Geographic location: Ontario

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