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Cobourg council urged to scrap fee for ombudsman complaints

Victoria Playhouse Petrolia kicks off a new season May 18 with The Heart and Soul of Broadway. THE OBSERVER/QMI AGENCY

Victoria Playhouse Petrolia kicks off a new season May 18 with The Heart and Soul of Broadway. THE OBSERVER/QMI AGENCY

COBOURG -- Cobourg is the only organization in the world that puts up barriers to the services of an ombudsman, Cobourg Taxpayers Association secretary Dennis Nabieszko alleged at council this week.

That barrier is in the form of a $25 fee the town charges to submit a complaint to the town ombudsman, Nabieszko said at the committee-of-the-whole meeting, and the group wants the charge eliminated.

He provided a simple definition of the term ombudsman -- an official charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of inefficient or dishonest administration, mismanagement or a violation of rights.

"When citizens have exhausted all other means, the ombudsman's office is their last resort to resolve their issue. They are now being asked to pay a fee when they are most vulnerable," he said.

"Even if they win, they still lose."

The tradition of ombudsman's offices around the world is that this service is free in order to ensure it is fully accessible to everyone.

Deputy Mayor John Henderson said he and Nabieszko had already been in contact on this matter, but he did want council to hear the presentation.

Councillor Suzanne Seguin asked how often the situation arises. Municipal clerk Lorraine Brace said it had happened once this past year and not at all prior to that.

Henderson added, however, that it had only been this past year that council had taken the proactive step of having its own integrity commissioner -- something only one-third of Ontario's municipalities had done.

Councillor Brian Darling asked whether staff time is required for these complaints. Brace confirmed that staff time and administrative costs are incurred.

Councillor Debra McCarthy said that the principles of fair access and no-barriers must be respected. Meanwhile, council voted to refer the matter to staff for a report.

cnasmith@postmedia.com

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