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Ombudsman reviewing complaints over CAO’s ouster

By Gord Whitehead, Special to the Times-Advocate

LAMBTON SHORES — The Office of the Ombudsman of Ontario confirms it is ‘reviewing’ six complaints relating to a Nov. 13 closed meeting of Lambton Shores council at which chief administrative officer John Byrne was informed that his employment was being terminated.

“These complaints are under review to determine whether or not a formal investigation is warranted,” said Linda Williamson, the ombudsman’s director of communications. “A formal investigation is not under way at present,” she told the Times-Advocate last Friday.

Her office declines to identify complainants but Gord Minielly, immediate past mayor of Lambton Shores, told the T-A that he made a submission to the ombudsman’s office. He said he questioned why there is no record of resolutions passed about the Byrne decision after council moved out of its in camera sessions.

All that is reported in minutes of the Nov. 13 in camera session is that “council rose after discussing a personal matter and sought legal direction on the issues.” Minielly questioned whether motions were passed during the in-camera session and, if so, why weren’t they reported publicly.

The former mayor said he also raised the issue of whether certain council members made the termination decision in a meeting that was not pre-announced to the public or that those council members conferred in some other way.

Communications director Williamson appeared to indicate the probe might not be that wide ranging.

“The Ombudsman’s responsibility as closed meeting investigator is to look into whether or not an in-camera meeting was closed according to the rules set out in s. 239 of the Municipal Act,” she told the T-A. “The Ombudsman looks at whether or not the meeting was closed according to the exceptions laid out in that section.”

Offered the opportunity for further explanation or comment on how the move to remove Byrne came about, Mayor Bill Weber told the T-A, “I can only say what is in the press release. Please respect that.”

As reported in the Nov. 22 T-A, the press release states that council made a decision to place CAO John Byrne on a non-disciplinary leave with pay, in contrast to an earlier message by Weber that council had voted to suspend Byrne with pay.

On Sat., Nov. 24, clerk Carol McKenzie announced to the news media that a special meeting of council had been called for 3 p.m. on Tuesday of this week and would go into closed session at 3:05 p.m. “to discuss advice that is subject to solicitor client privilege.”

Other council notes:

Crosswalks to get further discussion

Proposed pedestrian crosswalks on Grand Bend’s Ontario Street-Highway 21 connecting link have been referred to council’s Tues., Dec. 11 strategic plan meeting and deferred to 2013 budget deliberations.

After consultation with staff at Ontario’s transportation ministry (MTO), community services director Brent Kittmer has prepared a detailed report indicating a traffic study for the connecting link corridor would cost about $100,000 and new pedestrian crosswalks $50,000 to $60,000 each, all subject to MTO review and approval.

Kittmer also noted that the ministry no longer offers provincial subsidies to municipalities for capital projects on their connecting links, downloading 100 percent of the cost on local budgets. That announcement was made without consultation, the community services director said.

Kittmer also estimated that extension of the Ontario Street South (east side) sidewalk to Merrywoods subdivision would cost $83,000 for concrete surface and $60,000 for asphalt.

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