Late Monday afternoon, Mason Ainsworth filed a formal complaint with the city’s integrity commissioner over his concerns about council’s decision to hold a meeting behind closed doors last week.
“I wouldn’t say I’m excited about it, but I think it’s something I have to do,” Ainsworth said. “The reality is any investigation costs money and I’d rather not spend taxpayers’ money on an investigation. Honestly, I’d prefer not to do it.”
And there’s a chance he could withdraw the request, but he admits it doesn’t appear likely.
At tonight’s city council meeting, all decisions from last week’s council committee meeting must be ratified. That means the decision to keep details of the meeting in question under wraps could, in theory, be revisited.
On Feb. 5, council met in closed session, prior to its regular open meeting, for almost two hours. Ainsworth said the topic of discussion was an update on the recreation facility that is under construction at 255 West St. On the city’s public agenda, the meeting was deemed a ‘legal’ matter and noted Robert Allen, a partner of MacLennan Jaunkalns Miller Architects, would be in attendance.
“I don’t think people would be happy if they knew what was going on in that closed session,” Ainsworth told OrilliaMatters after that meeting.
“(It’s) about accountability of council and staff and of the municipality as a whole,” Ainsworth said. “If we’re talking about the rec centre, the timeline, money … those discussions can happen in the public realm and I don’t think they should be hidden away for political reasons, which is it’s an election year and some people don’t want to be embarrassed.”
However, Orillia Mayor Steve Clarke said having the discussion in public “would have been potentially irresponsible.” He suggested Ainsworth file a complaint if he disagreed.
According to the city’s website, “the complaint must include an explanation as to why the issue raised may be a contravention of the Code of Conduct and any evidence in support of the allegation must be included.”
Today, Ainsworth completed the form and filed the complaint, which will be forwarded to Nigel Bellchamber, the city’s integrity commissioner and closed meeting investigator. He will determine if an investigation is merited. If he deems it worthy of a probe, parties on either side would be given, separately, up to 14 days to answer questions. Following that, the investigation officially begins with interviews and “the securing and review of documents.”
Ainsworth said the size of the project and the importance of the issue necessitate holding such discussions in public. “It’s the biggest project in the history of Orillia and people should be able to know what’s going on,” he said.
Last week, Coun. Sarah Valiquette-Thompson and Coun. Rob Kloostra supported Ainsworth’s call for the meeting to be held in open session. If two other councillors change their vote tonight and agree to move the discussion into an open forum, Ainsworth said he would withdraw the complaint.
Tonight’s meeting at city hall begins at 7 p.m.