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“We’re a little behind”

City awaiting regional report before making moves on further oversight

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Those hoping to see further oversight at city hall may have to wait a little longer.

Currently, the City of Oshawa is awaiting a report from the Region of Durham before any decisions are made regarding the appointment of an integrity commissioner or municipal ombudsman.

In June 2015, council approved its code of conduct, a set of rules which councillors are meant to abide by while carrying out their jobs. As part of the motion that saw the code’s approval, city staff were directed to investigate the options for hiring an integrity commissioner to enforce the code – however, that has not happened.

The reason that has been given is that the city is awaiting a final report from the region regarding the scope of work for its recently hired municipal ombudsman. On June 29, the region announced it had appointed ADR Chambers Inc. as its ombudsman for the remaining council term. During the hiring process, it was always on the table that other Durham municipalities may be able to take advantage of ADR’s services as well.

According to Jag Sharma, Oshawa’s city manager, staff are waiting for a report due this September from regional staff regarding the sharing of ADR Chambers’ expertise throughout Durham. He does, however, admit he thought things may have happened a little quicker.

“We’re a little behind, we thought that we were going to get an opportunity to have some feedback a little earlier,” he says.

“Now that they’re at this stage, it makes sense for us to understand what it is they’re proposing before we actually conclude on whether we’re going to participate with them or not.”

In principle, an ombudsman investigates complaints at a departmental level, or the internal workings of city or regional business. An integrity commissioner would focus on complaints regarding councillors themselves.

Sharma says council will have options regarding both to consider after summer recess.

“We will be reporting back in the fall with respect to both the use of an ombudsman and/or integrity commissioner,” he says.

“The report from the region in September will help inform our recommendations.”

According to the region’s press release making the announcement regarding its ombudsman, it will be consulting with the eight local municipalities to gauge interest in joining the retainer agreement with ADR.

When an integrity commissioner is eventually appointed or retained by city council, they will be the first stop for residents who have complaints about council actions. Until that time, residents are urged to pass their concerns along to city clerk Sandra Kranc.

In a previous email to The Oshawa Express, Kranc said no complaints had been filed since the code of conduct’s passing in 2015, but if they are received, she will be the one responsible for passing them on to council.

“If an integrity commissioner has not been appointed when a complaint is received, I will provide a summary of the complaint to council on an open council meeting agenda and council will decide whether to appoint an integrity commissioner to investigate the complaint,” Kranc says.

The proposed code would put monetary penalties on councillors’ actions that are deemed to be in contravention of their duties.  Penalties could include reprimands and the suspension of a councillor’s remuneration for up to 90 days. The code also lays out specifics for how councillors deal with gifts they receive when attending events as part of their council obligations and defines the handling of confidential information.