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Despite complaint, Richmond Hill council not found in violation of Municipal Act for observatory meeting

Resident vows to continue to fight for 'justice'
July 14, 2015
By Kim Zarzour

Richmond Hill council did not violate the Municipal Act in a closed-door meeting dealing with the David Dunlap Observatory (DDO) lands, according to a report by the integrity commissioner made public this week.

An investigation by the town’s integrity commissioner, Amberley Gavel, found no procedural irregularities, despite a complaint from Richmond Hill resident Toomas Karmo.

Karmo, a scientist formerly employed at the observatory, lodged an official complaint following a closed-door meeting of council’s Committee of the Whole May 4.

At the time, councillors were discussing a donation of the buildings and telescope on the observatory site by the developer, which may, or may not have, breached a multi-party Ontario Municipal Board settlement of 2012.

The meeting went in camera (private session) at 7 p.m., then moved back into open session at 10:20 p.m. and councillors passed a resolution that “staff be directed to continue discussions with respect to the David Dunlap Observatory lands and buildings”.

That was too vague for Karmo, who alleged council committee breached provisions of the Municipal Act when it reported out on its discussions.

The in-camera session followed the surprise announcement this spring that developer DG Group (formerly known as Metrus/Corsica) had donated the heritage buildings and telescope to the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada-Toronto Centre.

Karmo and a representative of the grassroots DDO Defenders group spoke to the committee, warning that the donation could be in breach of the OMB settlement, and asked councillors to do everything possible to keep the property in public hands for long-term preservation.

The committee then moved into closed session “to consider matters related to the receiving of advice that is subject to solicitor-client privilege including communications for that purpose relative to the David Dunlap Observatory lands”.

It was anticipated the meeting should be private, as it included a confidential staff report and legal opinion with recommendations on directions, which might be given to staff with respect to the disputed lands.

When the committee moved back to public session, councillors voted to direct staff to continue the DDO discussions - but that was too opaque for Karmo.

He took issue with “the obfuscatory (i.e. the unacceptably vague) wording”.

When the committee meeting transitioned from closed session to open for the vote, Karmo said, one or more of the parties in the negotiations related to DDO lands should have been named explicitly.

But the integrity commissioner’s investigation disagreed.

Commissioner Nigel Bellchamber found the committee complied with the provisions of the Municipal Act and the town’s procedure bylaw.

“There is nothing in the Municipal Act that requires a council ... to report out to a public session what was discussed in the closed session,” the commissioner said, adding, the town’s bylaw only provides that matters be reported out in the form of a vote without specifying the wording of such resolutions.

“We have reviewed the direction provided to staff during the portion of the meeting that was closed to the public ... We are satisfied that committee of the whole provided an appropriate level of detail ... To include more detail might have undermined the various reasons that it was in closed session in the first place, including the advice that was subject to solicitor-client privilege.”

In his ruling, Bellchamber required that his report be made public by council and suggested it be placed on this week’s council agenda.

In a statement Tuesday, Karmo said he remains resolute in his “multi-track efforts to bring justice to DDO”.