Complaints to Ombudsman
Since August, 2016, OWCLA has submitted twelve formal complaints to the Ontario Office of the Ombudsman focusing on questionable business practices by staff and members of Council of the corporation of the municipality of Lambton Shores. We asked that the complaints be dealt with altogether rather than separately in order that the Ombudsman gets a complete picture of our concerns with how this municipality is being governed and managed.
The Ombudsman accepted our request and as of December, 2016 began the process of investigating the complaint package. We have been notified by an Ombudsman’s Early Resolution Officer that we will be apprised of developments with our file as they occur. For your information the following is a brief summary of the nature of each complaint submitted to date.
Complaint #1 – August 2016
The municipality’s questionable handling of procedural issues as per their own Procedural By-law 41-2014.
This complaint was filed as a result of the municipality’s apparent unwillingness to satisfactorily answer questions about portions of the municipal Procedural By-law 41-2014 that determines how correspondence is submitted to Lambton Shores Council for a council meeting and is then dealt with.
Complaint #2 – August 2016
The municipality’s use of public funds.
It is a serious matter when a municipality will not answer reasonable, truthful and respectful questions posed to them by a citizens’ association that is simply asking for transparency and accountability in the use of public funds as outlined by the Ontario Municipal Act. This particular complaint was filed over questions that went unanswered with regards to the manner in which hundreds of thousands of tax dollars were spent on post disaster design costs for the Grand Bend and Area Sewage Treatment Facility mechanical upgrade.
Complaint #3 – September 2016
The municipality’s questionable handling of procedural issues during council meetings as per their own Procedural By-law 41-2014.
This complaint was filed as a result of the municipality’s apparent unwillingness to satisfactorily answer questions about procedural anomalies (in contradiction of the municipality’s own Procedural By-law 41-2014) during Lambton Shores Council meetings that contributed to decisions made on Draft 7 of the municipality’s Official Plan. This draft was approved by Lambton Shores Council in November, 2015 and submitted to the County of Lambton, as the upper tier approval authority, in December 2015, despite the procedural irregularities that we drew attention to.
Complaint #4 – September 2016
The withholding of critical information from all members of Lambton Shores Council during discussions on the shaping of Draft 7 of the municipality’s Official Plan.
The municipal record does not disclose that all members of Lambton Shores current Council had the same knowledge of evidence crucial to discussions regarding the proposed need for sewer installation along the lakefront areas of the municipality to replace septic systems. Critical information from the Ontario Minister of the Environment and other credible sources that disputed the position for supporting sewer installation was never formally read into the records of meetings held to discuss Draft 7 of the municipal Official Plan, despite a few members of Council and senior staff being aware of its existence. This lack of transparency arguably slanted discussions and did not respect the spirit of the Municipal Act which mandates openness.)
Complaint #5 – September 2016
The municipality’s questionable use of sewer development charges in the designated areas known as Zones 3 and 4 (the land between the Ausable River and Lake Rd., Grand Bend currently being serviced by private septic systems).
For several years people planning to build on undeveloped lots in Zones 3 and 4 have been forced to pay a ‘sewer development’ charge, costing thousands of dollars, as part of the building permit approval process. This ‘sewer expansion’ tax was suggested in the Grand Bend Area Sanitary Servicing Master Plan in 2006 and adopted by the Council of the day. This sewer development charge has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from Zones 3 and 4 for the municipal sewer reserve fund, although no sewer expansion is needed as stipulated by the Ontario Minister of the Environment in a report to the municipality in September, 2013. Given the new direction for sewer expansion consideration all over the municipality, as stated in Draft 7 of the municipal Official Plan, and approved by Council in November, 2015, it is OWCLA’s position that either everyone wishing to build on land being serviced by a septic system throughout the municipality should be paying the sewer development charge or no one should be “until there is sufficient demand or proof that the sewer extension is warranted”. We question the legitimacy of the practice of collecting sewer development charges in areas for which there is neither a demonstrated need nor a plan to install sewers in the foreseeable future.
Complaint #6 – September, 2016
The letter from the Ontario Minister of Energy inviting the Lambton Shores mayor to write to the Ministry with his initial thoughts about the scope of the Province’s next Long-Term Energy Plan. The letter was dated May 19, 2016 with a required input date of June 15, 2016. The letter did not make its way to the Lambton Shores Council table until July 19, 2016, more than a month after the required due date. According to the municipal Clerk, in an article in the Exeter Times-Advocate newspaper, the letter got lost “in the mayor’s mail slot”.
OWCLA posed a number of questions to the municipality regarding the matter of a lost opportunity for the citizens of this municipality to inform the Ontario Minister of Energy of their feelings about energy costs in this Province. We asked if the municipality was prepared to provide the Minister with an explanation for the reason that Lambton Shores’ mayor did not take advantage of the occasion to speak on behalf of his citizens on such an important matter of interest to their lifestyle. We received neither a response to our questions nor even an acknowledgement of our letter.
Complaint #7 – October 2016
The various procedural and legislative anomalies arising from the August 23, 2016 Lambton Shores Council meeting.
The municipality continues to deflect enquiries by your Association regarding ongoing procedural incongruities at Lambton Shores Council meetings. Our questions about an apparent violation of Section 283 of the Ontario Municipal Act, which deals with remuneration and expenses for members of council, local municipal boards and officers and employees of the municipality, as well as municipal By-law 23A, which sets out the rate of pay for council members and the fact that 1/3 of the remuneration paid is deemed to be for expenses incurred in the discharge of duties, have gone unanswered.
Complaint #8 – October 2016
The various procedural and legislative irregularities arising from the October 4, 2016 Lambton Shores Council meeting.
The municipality continues to refuse to take notice of enquiries regarding the ongoing procedural and legislative irregularities at Lambton Shores Council meetings. There appears to be a continuing disregard for Section 227 of the Ontario Municipal Act, the section that describes the role of the officers and employees of the municipality as a corporation. Our OWCLA media representative videotapes every Council meeting. These tapes have been offered to the municipality for review and acknowledgment of their authenticity. The meetings are recorded in whole and at no time are the tapes edited or altered to distort the reality of the event being captured. The municipality has chosen to not review any of these tapes. The minutes of the October 4, 2016 meeting, as approved by Council and depicted on the municipal website, appear to distort the reality of events that took place.
Complaint #9 – December 2016
Various questions regarding municipal expenditures.
We posed a number of questions to the municipality regarding public monies being paid to one particular local newspaper as well as the municipality’s energy costs. We received neither a response nor the courtesy of an acknowledgement of our letter
Complaint #10 – December 2016
Various questions regarding a County of Lambton social event hosted by the Mayor and Council of Lambton Shores within the municipality.
We are concerned that Lambton Shores’ taxpayers paid, in whole or in part, for an exclusive County social event held within the municipality, and particularly that any Lambton Shores elected official, employee or officer of the corporation of Lambton Shores was reimbursed for expenses incurred as a result of their attendance to this self-serving event. A municipal by-law sets out the rate of pay for Council members and provides that 1/3 of the remuneration paid to members of Council is deemed to be for expenses sustained in the discharge of their duties within the municipality.
Complaint #11 – December, 2016
The specific actions of certain municipal staff and members of Council that contributed to the shaping of the language used in Draft 7 of the municipality’s Official Plan revision.
The complaint is not a condemnation of the municipal Official Plan. It is based on the actions of individuals who are paid to discharge their duties in the best interests of the community in an open, transparent and accountable manner as mandated by the Ontario Municipal Act. Our complaint is based on documented evidence gathered in the following subject areas: non-compliance with provincial statutes, dubious interpretation of provincial policy, municipal by-law incongruities, financial implications for property owners in targeted areas, undesirable environmental consequences for a rare oak savanna Carolinian forest zone, information mismanagement and suppression, distortion of information and questionable ethics. A twenty-five (25) page chronology of events dating from 2000-2001 was attached to the complaint to support our evidence.
Complaint #12 – January 2017
Various questions regarding municipal expenditures, staffing arrangements and operating costs for the Grand Bend and Area Sewage Treatment Facility.
We posed a number of questions to the municipality with regards to the staffing complement and the wastewater handling operations of the Grand Bend and Area Sewage Treatment Facility mechanical upgrade. We have received neither a reply nor an acknowledgement to our letter.
All of our complaints are fact based and have been submitted with the necessary supporting documentation. None are intended to be frivolous or vexatious. We will continue to submit any unresolved concerns we have with the municipality to the Ombudsman and keep you up to date on the results of any investigation.