The Ontario Ombudsman’s office has confirmed it is reviewing as many as eight complaints over a weekend lunch that included London Mayor Joe Fontana and six city councillors.
A Tweet sent out shortly after 1 p.m. by @Ont_Ombudsman reads “Our office has received 8 complaints re wkend gathering of #Ldnont councillors. Complaints now under review. #OpenMtgs (Comms)”
The complainants allege the mayor and his supporters on council may have been holding an illegal, private council meeting when they met for lunch at a north London restaurant on Saturday.
The Ontario Ombudsman investigated after a similar lunch in 2012 involving Fontana and a number of councillors at the Harmony Grand Buffet Restaurant.
While the Ombudsman determined that the event was not a secret meeting, it was still criticized as unsavoury and ill-conceived.
Now there are a number of explanations circulating as to what the most recent gathering was really about.
Councillor Bud Polhill was at the lunch at Billy T’s Tap and Grill and says the real reason for the meeting was to help him plan a personal family event later this year.
But Councillor Denise Brown says she learned her lesson last year, “The Ombudsman said it came to optics and I definitely took it to heart and it’s exactly one year later. We shouldn’t be repeating the same mistake. But it’s also awful that as co-workers we can’t get together to go for a drink or to go and sit down and chat about.”
Still, Councillor Joni Baechler says the rules are in place for a reason “We can only go behind closed doors for very discrete reasons, so to continue to meet, and I have been advised this isn't the first time, that there's been a whole series of these meetings and discussions. You are taking the business of the day behind closed doors and it's kind of like the old boys’ club.”
A manager at the restaurant tells CTV News Fontana is a regular customer and that the private room was not booked in advance, but that the group simply asked if they could use the room once the councillors had arrived.
There is still no word on whether the Ombudsman will launch a formal investigation into the event.