This is the fourth and last article in a series of articles Alberta Municipalities, Rural Municipalities of Alberta and the Alberta Ombudsman produced to provide an update, four years into the Ombudsman’s office handling complaints involving municipalities.
An Ombudsman investigation can be a learning opportunity for a municipality. The goal is not to lay blame, but to fix problems and help avoid future complaints by improving administrative processes.
Five reasons for encouraging an Ombudsman investigation
- Fair outcomes matter: If a citizen is entitled to a service or benefit, municipalities are expected 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 provides assurance that fair outcomes are achieved.
- Collaborative approach: The Ombudsman’s approach is to consult with the authority/municipality and make practical recommendations. Since inception in 1967, the Ombudsman has always prioritized reaching an agreement with authorities that are the subject of complaints.
- 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 and implementation 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. Decisions are not reviewable in court. Although not every outcome can completely satisfy both the complainant and municipality, both receive a thorough explanation.
After working with municipalities for four years, experience demonstrates the Ombudsman’s collaborative approach works. Alberta municipal administrators looking to better apply standards of fairness and improve decision-making may wish to access:
Resources for Municipalities: this web page elaborates on the role of the Ombudsman and the office’s relationship to municipalities. See links to information and resources specifically designed for municipalities.
Administrative Fairness Guidelines: this guidebook offers eight principles rooted in administrative law that the Alberta Ombudsman uses to assess whether a situation has been dealt with in an administratively fair manner.
Dealing Fairly with Unreasonable Conduct by Complainants: this resource offers guidance to public authorities for managing unreasonable complaints and ideas on how to interact with individuals exhibiting challenging behaviour.
Fairness by Design: this publication, created by five Canadian Ombudsman offices, may assist public organizations looking for advice on how to develop policies that will ensure delivery in a fair and reasonable manner.
Brochures, Posters and Workshops: this link provides access to general information and promotional materials about the Ombudsman’s role, as well as contact information municipalities may use to get in touch if they wish to request a workshop or presentation on administrative fairness.