The Ontario Ombudsman will launch a formal investigation into complaints that seven members of London city council held an improper in-camera meeting, the office announced Friday.
Ombudsman Andre Marin says his office received 60 complaints that the gathering might have violated the open meeting requirements of the Municipal Act.
Mayor Joe Fontana admits he and Councillors Bud Polhill, Joe Swan, Stephen Orser, Dale Henderson, Paul Van Meerbergen and Sandy White met at Billy T's Tap and Grill on Feb. 23.
However, he denies any wrongdoing, “If it was supposed to be a secret meeting we sure as heck wouldn’t be doing it in a restaurant.”
But if city business was discussed and advanced then it would violate the Municipal Act.
After receiving so many complaints, the Ombudsman assigned members of the Special Ombudsman Response Team (SORT) to conduct a preliminary assessment.
It is the highest number of complaints his office has received relating to a single incident since it began dealing with municipal closed meetings in 2008.
Still Fontana says “There is an explanation and that’s part of the investigation. Just like the last investigation where in fact he indicated nothing untoward was done."
This is the second time in less than a year the Ombudsman will probe a London meeting.
Marin was in the city six months ago after releasing the findings of an investigation into a gathering of council members at the Harmony Grand Buffet Restaurant in February 2012.
While he determined that meeting was legal, he also called it unsavoury and warned council about the optics of that type of meeting.
Investigators will be in London to interview councillors on March 20th.