Last year, our organization advocated strongly for York Region to adopt an Ombudsman for taxpayers. We were thrilled when they attended our event with the former Ombudsman of Toronto last summer, who also encouraged York Region to do the same.
In December of 2015, the York Region Government announced the official appointment of their new Ombudsman, April Schulze. We asked Ms. Schulze some questions about what her job entails and how she will go about representing complaints from the public.
Here’s our interview:
Q: York Region Council members and the Council Chair have been on record saying that accountability officers are not required in York Region. This Council does not have a lobbyist registry, a code of conduct, an auditor general, nor an integrity commissioner. As the very first accountability officer in York Region’s history, how do you see yourselves winning over a municipality that has been historically skeptical of the benefits of accountability officers?
A: Our objective is to provide fair and unbiased service to complainants and to the Region, and our hope is that anyone who is skeptical (either complainants or Councillors) will see that we act with integrity and do our best to produce fair outcomes. Not everyone will be happy with every recommendation we make, of course, but we hope that they’ll perceive that the process was fair, that everyone was heard and that we have acted in an unbiased manner.
Q: Do you have a process in mind for how a member of the public may contact
you and file a complaint? Do you have any service standards established to make sure a complaint is handled in a judicious yet expeditious manner?
A: There will be a variety of ways for the public to contact us and file a complaint and we will make sure that the public knows how to contact us. For example, they can call our toll-free number (1-844-235-4442). We will have specific procedures and timelines that investigators will need to follow.
Q: Will you be releasing reports (like the Ontario Ombudsman and the City of Toronto Ombudsman offices do) that recommend improvements in processes and procedures to York Region Council? If so, will you be making these reports public in the same way as your counterparts elsewhere?
A: We will be conducting investigations and making recommendations in accordance with our Terms of Reference, which will govern the scope of our mandate and define what we are able to do. The Terms of Reference will be finalized shortly in consultation with the Region.
Q: The Ontario Ombudsman has been outspoken about York Region Council’s procedures on in camera meetings and in particular about the cost for a member of the public to request a closed door meeting investigation. Do you see yourself providing Council advice on that topic any time soon as it was a topic in the news in 2015?
A: As with number 3 above, we will be conducting investigations and making recommendations in accordance with our Terms of Reference, which will govern the scope of our mandate and define what we are able to do. The Terms of Reference will be finalized shortly in consultation with the Region.