Zoning, snow removal and drainage on new ombudsman’s radar

By Robert Frank

Laval’s new ombudsman submitted her first annual report to city hall, May 5.

Nadine Mailloux indicated in a statement that she has handled 50 files from the time that she started her new job, Sept. 3 and the end of 2013.

Four of the files put city zoning changes, snow removal practices and drainage between adjoining properties under her microscope.

The ombudsman’s office, which has the power to review what city officials do, but not elected officials, came under intense political pressure last year.

After Laval city council voted to fire Mailloux’ predecessor, Diane Lemelin, Jan. 14, 2013, a senior official in city hall told The Suburban that tensions quickly arose after top municipal civil servants attempted to compromise the ombudsman’s independence by placing the office under the authority of Gaétan Turbide, Laval’s former top civil servant.

Turbide and other municipal mandarins subsequently left their jobs in the wake of allegations before the Charbonneau Commission investigation into corruption and collusion.

The Suburban obtained a copy interim report, which claimed that the previous city administration and former mayor Alexandre Duplessis had “systematically violated” the provisions of the Laval bylaw that created the ombudsman’s office and slashed its budget.

“The administration and the mayor’s office interfered,” it contended, claiming that the city’s urban planning department ignored a wide range of Lemelin’s requests for information. “Besides being among the most drastic forms of interference, the situation violated the very principle of independence and confidentiality of ombudsman office files.”

Three local volunteers subsequently kept the ombudsman’s office on life-support after city council fired Lemelin, until mid-August, when provincially appointed trustees agreed to hire Mailloux, who hitherto served as ombudsman for CSSS Jeanne Mance in Montreal.

On March 9, 2014, Mayor Marc Demers announced that the city would beef up the powers of the ombudsman’s office. Mailloux can now investigate on her own initiative whenever she believes that she has reasonable grounds to do so.

“Henceforth, the ombudsman will be empowered to use her judgment to receive, assess and follow through on citizens’ requests,” vowed Mayor Demers. “It functions as their watchdog.”

Mailloux used the occasion to remind that her services are confidential and provided at no charge to users.

The full text of her 2013 annual report is available at www.ombudsmanlaval.com.

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