As of April 1, 2018, the Alberta Ombudsman’s jurisdiction expanded to include municipalities. The office may now act on complaints about municipalities and, if warranted, initiate investigations into municipal decisions and decision-making processes.
The Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA) and the Ombudsman’s office are collaborating on a series of articles to provide municipalities information on how the Ombudsman’s new role affects municipalities and how the relationship can enhance decision-making processes to better respond to and avoid future complaints.
The Ombudsman’s office was established in 1967 and has been serving Albertans for over 50 years. The Ombudsman objectively investigates complaints to determine whether a public agency has acted fairly, and whether its actions and decisions are consistent with relevant legislation, policies and procedures. Amendments to the Municipal Government Act expanded the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction in 2018 to include municipalities.
The Ombudsman is an independent Officer of the Legislative Assembly and as such does not report to any Minister, Executive Council or other individual. The Ombudsman Act indicates that the duty of the Ombudsman is to investigate complaints related to “…any decision or recommendation made…or any act done or omitted, relating to a matter of administration…”
Because the Ombudsman looks at matters of administration, most decisions by elected councils are not reviewable by the Ombudsman; however, there are some municipal councils that review administrative matters and the Ombudsman may investigate those decisions. Typically the Ombudsman examines decisions of the chief administrative officer (CAO) and municipal employees reporting to the CAO.
Investigations concentrate on the process that led to the decision with a focus on key principles:
- Are the procedures fair and were they followed?
- Was the decision made without bias?
- Did the person receiving a decision understand the process?
- Was consideration given to the input provided by the person or persons affected?
- Was the rationale for the decision explained?
The Ombudsman has the power to make recommendations, which are aimed at fair solutions for both the complainant and the authority and are oriented towards improving decisions and decision-making processes.
Tune next week to learn more about what municipalities can expect if the Ombudsman calls.