New Brunswick’s Ombud has ruled that provincial legislation does not prohibit municipal representatives from meeting with town managers behind closed doors to discuss budget priorities.
At the same time, the Ombud has reminded the town of the need for “transparency” and “accountability,” especially in budget deliberations and will also be raising the issue with the provincial department of local government.
The Ombud was responding to a complaint from The New Wark Times about a meeting on September 29th when members of Sackville Town Council and senior managers met privately to discuss the 2021 municipal budget.
There was no public notice of the online meeting and no record kept of what was said.
Warktimes complained to the Ombud’s Office after an open council meeting on October 26th when Councillor Shawn Mesheau asked whether the priorities determined during the private session could be made public along with the proposed budgets to support those priorities.
Treasurer Michael Beal replied then that information from what he called “a working group meeting” is not normally made public.
In his decision released today, the Ombud said: “While our Office has not found specific provisions within the Local Governance Act that would prohibit such a session, we have raised the importance of transparency and accountability with the Town, particularly in respect of budget deliberations. Our Office will also be raising this issue with the Department of Local Government and Local Governance Reform.”
The Warktimes complaint, filed on November 3rd, noted that provincial law specifies only three types of council meetings: special, regular and closed. The first two must be held in public while public notice must be given of closed meetings that discuss a narrow range of issues such as land transactions and legal matters.
The Ombud’s ruling says that the private working sessions that are held every year are meant to allow town staff to discuss budget priorities.
“They are organized by the Town Treasurer and Council members are invited to attend,” the ruling adds.
The Ombud’s Office declined a request to discuss the ruling.
“Please be advised that, other than investigations where a public report is issued, it is not our practice to provide comments to the media. Following the conclusion of our investigations, Complainants are offered a summary of our findings as was offered in the email below.”
To read that e-mail, click here.
For previous coverage of this issue, click here.