Ombudsman says Byrne situation should have been private; no evidence of prior meeting

Ontario’s Ombudsman says Lambton Shores council was correct to discuss the job performance which led to the suspension of CAO John Byrne in private.

John Byrne, former Lambton Shores CAO

John Byrne, former Lambton Shores CAO

And a report going to council today says the Ombudsman could not find the evidence to prove there was a prior private meeting on the issue.

The municipality has been embroiled in a controversy since council suspended Byrne Nov. 13. The council met privately with the CAO for a performance review after a council meeting. He was suspended and escorted from the Thedford hall where the meeting took place.

logoThe Ombudsman received eight complaints about the meeting, concerned the meeting was improperly held. There were also allegations that there was a meeting prior to in camera session.

Michelle Bird, Legal Advisor for the Ontario Ombudsman wrote “From the information provided to our office, it appears that the discussion on November 13 included an examination of an identified employee’s performance, as well as personal views and opinions express about this individual. As such, the discussion fit within the personal matter exception.

“The complaint to our office also alleged that members of council met prior to the meeting to discuss and make decisions on council business. Our review did not substantiate that such a gathering took place,” Bird wrote.

Bird did say that a number of the votes during the in camera session were done improperly, including the vote to appoint Janet Ferguson acting CAO. Staff and council had already recognized that error and voted on the matter again Nov. 19.

Bird took issue with two other votes, appointing a transition team to “facilitate the departure of the CAO” and to direct the transition team to seek legal advice were both in violation of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The Ombudsman also praised the municipality for recording in camera sessions – as suggested recently by the Ombudsman – saying it helped with the office’s investigation.

The report which can be viewed on the municipal website at  did not address the other controversy surrounding the CAO’s suspension and dismissal, the allegation that a member of council leaked the information to the public prior to the meeting. Councilor Doug Bonesteel has said he would like an Integrity Commissioner to investigate that allegation.