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Incinerator meetings under investigation

Two closed meetings being looked at

incinerator

A pair of closed meetings, which decided the eventual fate of the Durham York Energy Centre, are now under investigation following allegations that they were improperly closed to the public.

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Two of the meetings the region held regarding the operation and eventual approval of the incinerator are now under investigation.

The Oshawa Express has learned that following two separate complaints, closed meetings held on Dec. 22 and Jan. 27 are being investigated for whether they were properly closed to the public.

“I can confirm that two complaints have been received and are currently with the closed meeting investigator,” Sherri Munns, the director of communications for the regional chair’s office, tells The Oshawa Express in an emailed statement.

“In accordance with the Municipal Act, everything is confidential with respect to the investigator’s activities and therefore we cannot comment further at this time.”

On Dec. 22, the regional committee of the whole – comprised of all regional councillors – met in a closed meeting at regional headquarters to discuss the incinerator. According to minutes of the meeting posted to the Region of Durham’s website, councillors received a confidential verbal update on acceptance testing for the incinerator.

The day following the meeting, the region announced that Covanta, the operator of the incinerator, had not passed its acceptance testing, citing that the facility had produced more ash than was acceptable under the contract between the region and the operator.

On Jan. 27, following a meeting of regional council, the committee of the whole again met behind closed doors to discuss the incinerator. Following that meeting, regional council reconvened, and voted to amend the contract between Durham and Covanta, allowing the operator to produce more ash.

As a result, the incinerator was given the go ahead to go into commercial operation the following day.

The closed meeting investigator for the Region of Durham is Local Authority Services (LAS), a Toronto-based company created in 1992 by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario and “is mandated to work with Ontario municipalities, as well as organizations from the broader public sector, to help realize lower costs, higher revenues, and enhanced staff capacity, through co-operative procurement efforts and innovative training, programs, and services,” according to a post on its website.

Munns says that while the two complaints dealt with the same two meetings, it will be up to the investigator as to whether they will be looked at jointly or separately.

Judy Dezell, LAS’ director, confirmed to The Oshawa Express that LAS has received the complaint and will be investigating, adding that it “will likely be at least a month before a report is available.”

Hadn’t been told

Prior to going into a closed session, councillors must vote as to whether they agree to do so.

In the case of the two meetings, three Oshawa councillors – John Neal, Amy McQuaid-England and Nancy Diamond – voted against either of them going into closed session. Councillor Dan Carter voted against the December session taking place behind closed doors, but voted in favour of the January meeting.

When reached for comment, Neal and McQuaid-England both said they had not been informed that the two meetings were under investigation.

Under the procedure guidelines for closed meeting investigations, the region must provide contact information for all people present at the meeting. However, it does not say that the councillors must be contacted or interviewed in regards to the meeting.

“I don’t know who put (the complaints) in, but the more transparency for the incinerator, the better. That’s all I have to say because it’s just way over the top how much taxpayer money has been spent on this,” Neal says.

Diamond did not return The Oshawa Express’ calls for comment before press time.