EMBRUN – The township of Russell council was recently cleared of any wrongdoing following a complaint made mid-2021 accusing the municipality of breaching the open session requirements.

It was during council’s Dec. 20 meeting that politicians received documents from Ontario Ombudsman J. Paul Dubé, dated Dec. 10, 2021, handing down judgement on two separate complaints. These are included in that evening’s agenda package.

A complaint was made alleging that council’s in-camera discussion on June 21, 2021, should have occurred in open session. Council members discussed the issue briefly, highlighting the reason the decision to go in-camera was legally permitted under the Municipal Act.

“Under the Municipal Act, all meetings of council, local boards, and committees of council must be open to the public, unless they fall within prescribed exceptions. The act gives anyone the right to request an investigation into whether a municipality has complied with the act in closing a meeting to the public,” Dubé said. “Municipalities may appoint their own investigator. The act designates the Ombudsman as the default investigator for municipalities that have not appointed their own. My office is the closed meeting investigator for the township of Russell.”

It was after reviewing the documents and speaking with all relevant persons involved that Dubé cleared Russell of all wrongdoing, noting that the document in question included information provided in confidence from another level of government. The discussion and decision was made in closed session, but then council returned to open session where they formally accepted and voted to accept the report’s recommendation.

“I am writing to advise that my review has determined that council for the township of Russell did not contravene the act’s open meeting requirements on June 21, 2021,” Dubé said. “Section 239(2)(h) of the act allows a municipal council to meet in closed session to discuss ‘information explicitly supplied to it in confidence to the municipality or local board of Canada, a province or territory or a Crown agency of any of them.’”

The second judgement concerned a similar issue from the year prior. A complaint had been made alleging that politicians had proceeded in-camera during the Nov. 16, 2020 council meeting, to discuss a proposed land transaction between the township and the United Counties of Prescott and Russell (UCPR).

“Council for the township of Russell did not contravene the Municipal Act, 2001 on Nov. 16, 2020 when it went in-camera to discuss the pending acquisition of land in Embrun,” Dubé stated in a detailed six-page report. “The discussion fell within the open meeting exception at section 239(2)(c) and (k) of the act, namely the acquisition or disposition of land, and plans and instructions for negotiations.”