This is the second 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.
In 2017-18, the Alberta Ombudsman received over 4,600 inquiries and written complaints and those numbers are growing. Amendments to the Municipal Government Act expanded the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction and, as of April 1, 2018, calls from complainants with a concern about a municipal decision or decision-making process can be reviewed.
Under Alberta’s Ombudsman Act, the Ombudsman can investigate any administrative decision, recommendation, act or omission of organizations and authorities within its jurisdiction.
When a call comes in, an investigator will speak with the complainant and make every effort to fully understand the complainant’s concerns. A first step is to determine the complaint is within the Ombudsman’s jurisdiction. To do that, the investigator will work to identify:
- the nature of the issue,
- the facts of the complaint,
- the actions the complainant has taken to date and any results from those actions,
- any urgency that may exist, and
- what the complainant believes would resolve the situation
At this stage, the investigator may contact the municipality to ask questions or request information that might shed light on the issue. This interaction also allows the Ombudsman’s staff to describe the office’s role, explain their processes and if appropriate, facilitate direct communication between the complainant and the municipality.
Contact with municipal front-line staff may be sufficient to address the concern informally. However, there may be occasions when direct contact with the chief administrative officer (CAO) is necessary. The Ombudsman’s staff may need to confirm the information provided by the complainant and may ask the municipality to provide further information:
- specific documents relevant to the complaint,
- information about the municipality’s process or governing legislation,
- policies or procedures, and/or
- any alternative options that may be available to resolve the complaint.
Once the Ombudsman investigator has all the available information, they can better respond to the complainant’s concerns and provide as accurate information as possible about the issue or options available to the complainant.
Next issue, learn more about the types of Ombudsman investigations and what municipalities need to know to help facilitate a smooth process.