Should municipal administrators invite their citizens to complain to the Ombudsman?
An Ombudsman investigation should be seen as an opportunity by a municipality. The goal is not to lay blame, but to fix problems and help the municipality avoid future complaints by improving its processes.
Here are five reasons for supporting the Ombudsman investigation:
- Mistakes get fixed: If a citizen is entitled to a service or benefit, municipalities have a responsibility to ensure they receive it. Competent, conscientious administrators aren’t expected to know everything and think of every eventuality in a rapidly changing world. An outside perspective is a positive learning experience.
- Collaborative approach: The Ombudsman consults with the authority and makes practical recommendations. In its 53 years of being in operation, the Ombudsman has always reached an agreement with authorities. Should agreement not be reached, the ultimate recourse for the Ombudsman would be to issue a public report.
- No surprises: Should the Ombudsman intend to make a recommendation, the usual practice is to discuss reasons and possible resolutions with the municipality beforehand. If the municipality proposes a better way to resolve a complaint, the Ombudsman will listen.
- Improves government: Most Ombudsman investigations focus on process, meaning how the decision was made versus whether it was the right decision. A municipality’s consideration of Ombudsman recommendations can lead to better ways of doing business.
- Brings an issue to a close: Handling complaints absorbs time and resources. Ombudsman investigations are the final step and her decisions are not reviewable in court. Although not every outcome will completely satisfy the complainant, they will at least understand the reasons for the municipality’s position.
The purpose of an Ombudsman investigation is to correct oversights, not lay blame. The investigation applies recognized fairness standards developed by experts in administration and court decisions. Ultimately, the Ombudsman encourages fairer future decisions, making the municipality less vulnerable to future complaints and even court challenges.
If you are an Alberta municipal government administrator looking to better apply standards of fairness and improve your decision-making, contact us. We can help.