This is the third in a series of articles AUMA and the Alberta Ombudsman are producing to provide information on the relationship between the Ombudsman and Municipalities. To read the full series, follow us here or visit AUMA’s MGA Change Management page.
The Alberta Ombudsman is contacted by citizens who feel something is not fair – perhaps the outcome of a decision does not go as expected or necessary information is not fully communicated or understood. Investigations into municipal complaints can take a variety of forms:
When the Ombudsman first receives a complaint, the investigator will work to understand the issue and look for opportunities to resolve the issue informally, as described in the article What if the Ombudsman calls. This approach places emphasis on informal, collaborative and local resolution and will only advance to formal investigation if the case is complex or early resolution is not feasible or appropriate.
Formal investigations occur in cases where the issues may be systemic in nature, a legal analysis is required, or other factors are discovered that make the case unsuitable for early resolution. A formal investigation always opens with an official letter addressed to the administrative head (typically the CAO) from the Ombudsman requesting a response and any available supporting documentation. During the investigation process, the investigator assigned to the case may also request relevant documents and conduct interview(s) with the complainant and authority. At the conclusion of an investigation, both the complainant and the municipality complained about are formally notified by the Ombudsman of the investigation results.
Own Motion or Minister-ordered investigations
“Own Motion” investigations are those initiated at the Ombudsman’s own discretion when a trend or pattern of issues about the administrative fairness of a program or department has been found. Often this becomes apparent through multiple investigations of the same issue, demonstrating a systemic component that goes beyond a single complainant.
Another factor in advancing to an Own Motion investigation may be the impact or risk to members of the public if the matter were to remain unchecked. Find full reports including Own Motion investigations on our Reports page.
An investigation may also be launched at the direction of a committee of the Legislative Assembly or a Minister of the Crown.
Everyone has the right to be treated fairly in the provision of public services and the Ombudsman works collaboratively with authorities toward that aim. In our next and last article in this series, learn about some of the ways the Ombudsman’s office promotes administrative fairness through recommendations and education.