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Poor Borg. One almost feels pity for their confusion. The members of Collingwood Council’s block-thinking collective were faced with a difficult dilemma on Monday: should they stick to their pettifogging ideology or break from it and support one of their own? Dogma versus friendship and loyalty.
Monday night, another report from the Integrity Commissioner bashed the behaviour of one of the politburo. The purpose of the IC is to examine public complaints about whether members of council acted in an ethical, moral or even appropriate manner. This time the target was Councillor Tim Fryer. Read the report here (page 157).
More principled people would have stuck by their friend and rejected the report. Instead, the Borg threw their buddy, Tim, under the bus.
Dogma won. It had to, because their whole, nasty, little ideology is built on sand. Had they not chosen it, it would have crashed to ruin about them for all to see. Had they refused to accept it, they would have been saying that accepting the complaint against the former Deputy Mayor was wrong. They never admit mistakes.
But their ideology states everything about the former council was bad, evil, malicious and corrupt and their political masters insist they toe the line.
Oh, the sharp horns of that dilemma!
The IC wasn’t even there to make the presentation, and the report was buried at the very end of the agenda, easy to miss, presented only at the end of a long meeting. While Fryer stepped away from the table, his so-called friends hemmed and hawed, fidgeted and looked at their hands when the report was brought up. There was no discussion, just an embarrassed show of hands to accept it.
All but one: Councillor Lloyd stuck to his principles and voted not to, but the rest voted yes. Seven to one.
How’s that for loyalty to one another, eh? Don’t turn your back on them, Tim… One for all, and all for… well, not for you, Tim. But then you did the same to Councillor Deb Doherty when the IC lambasted her for the same sort of conflict. I guess it’s tit-for-tat.
No matter how these councillors huff and puff about their proposed, revised code of conduct and its extensive, grandstanding restrictions, it merely implements a bureaucracy of mutual distrust. There are many laws already that govern how politicians must behave and if they can’t manage to behave honestly and ethically without another 16 pages of rules and regulations, then they weren’t honest and ethical to begin with.*
The complaint against Fryer was that he voted on issues involving his sister’s and brother-in-law’s company and properties. I wrote about this back in July.
Like I said then, and the IC reiterated, Fryer did not break any laws. No more than did former Deputy Mayor Lloyd last term when one of the current Deputy Mayor’s campaign supporters filed a complaint against Lloyd just before the election.
The two big differences between those complaints are that the first was politically motivated and presented at the optimum time to cause the most damage during an election campaign, and, second, that the complaint against Lloyd was rushed onto the council agenda with obscene haste, not even following the proper procedure outlined in the bylaw. Yet the complaint against Fryer evidently took several months to get to council.**
The IC wrote:
Councillor Fryer is new on Council and I believe that he felt an obligation to participate in all matters before Council if he believed he could be impartial. I am satisfied that there was no intent to unduly benefit his brother-in-law. However, I accept the words in the Code: “spirit of the . . . Act” as requiring him to declare a conflict or at least leave the meeting room, when items involving his brother-in-law are considered by Council. He has advised me that he will do so in all future Council and committee matters and has indeed done so at the meeting of Strategic Initiatives Committee held on July 6, 2015.
Which is all poppycock. The statement “I believe that he felt an obligation…” is a statement of faith about intentions, not of fact. There is no definition anywhere of what the “spirit” of any law means. It’s not a debate on motive: whether he intended to benefit anyone, he voted on issues that did so. But the law says that’s okay.
Fryer didn’t have a conflict under the law and the law is what should matter, not an opinion about it. Fryer’s hang-dog comments notwithstanding, he did nothing wrong in the eyes of the law and if he had had a spine, he would have stood up and said so.
But suddenly this summer, Fryer declared conflicts over issues related to his sister’s company which can only be seen by the public as an admission of guilt: that he was wrong when he didn’t declare them. He was trying to blow and suck at the same time.
And just to make things worse, Monday, although Fryer stepped away from the table when the report was being voted on, he returned after the vote and spoke out about it, making excuses for his contentious voting! That’s not merely a violation of procedure – no one can talk to an issue after a vote has been taken – it’s an inexcusable act of rationalization and self-justification. The former Deputy Mayor was not given the opportunity to comment at the table on the complaint against him. Yet there was Fryer, mumbling his best Uriah Heep mea culpa at the table, in public, for the cameras.
Despite the importance of this story, nothing about it has appeared in the local media yet. No one in the media has questioned why Fryer’s report took so long to get to the public when Lloyd’s was rushed to the table, violating the bylaw to get it there. No one in the media is asking why the IC soft-pedalled the breach of conduct in Fryer’s report but was so much harsher in Lloyd’s report. No one is asking why Fryer was allowed to speak about an issue that concerned him and for which he left the table.
Does the media understand the issue? Or appreciate its importance? If it does, then is the media colluding to bury the report from public scrutiny? None of which speaks well of our local reporters and their alleged objectivity.
* Of course The Borg have engineered into the new code restrictions on the Integrity Commissioner in order to limit what he can investigate, and avoid this sort of embarrassment in the future. It doesn’t mean they will change their ways, just that they won’t be under public scrutiny with damning reports like this in future. How very accountable.
** The report states the complaint was about votes made between February and May; Fryer started declaring conflicts July 6, so the report was likely filed between May and early July. That means it took at least two months to be made public. Lloyd’s was rushed to the public in about three weeks. Why the haste, why the delay, are questions no one in the media has asked.
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