Monday night’s council meeting again underscored why the town needs someone new in the role of integrity commissioner. Lawyer Robert Swayze presented his report about a complaint filed against councillor Deb Doherty and it was accepted by council in a recorded 6-2 vote*. But his report shared the same flaws his previous report about former Deputy Mayor Lloyd had, and kudos to the two (mayor Cooper and Coun. Lloyd) for rejecting it.
The IC’s report was presented to the public (and thus to the media) before it was presented to the council member (Doherty) about whom it had been made. The town’s bylaw 2014-042 clearly states:
The Integrity Commissioner shall not issue a report finding a violation of the Code of Conduct on the part of any member unless the member has had reasonable notice of the basis for the proposed finding and any recommended sanction and an opportunity either in person or in writing to comment on the proposed finding and any recommended sanction.
But neither the former Deputy Mayor nor Coun. Doherty were presented with the final report/findings before they went public. An IC who does not obey the rules set out for his participation is a liability and this town deserves better oversight. This is exactly why the former council rejected the first report.
By accepting the report in public before the member has had that “reasonable notice” and before that member has had “an opportunity… to comment on the proposed finding,” the majority of this council has approved breaking the bylaw. Twice, now. That is NOT accountable or open government.
The irony here is that Coun. Doherty herself brought the report against former Deputy Mayor Lloyd back to the table this term, and voted to accept it.
(Rather ominously, two days later, the agenda for Monday’s meeting still has not appeared on the town’s website, which suggests to me that someone didn’t want the public to be able to read it and the IC’s report… )
The complainant also presented a letter (appearing on the consent agenda, last Monday) that argued he was not satisfied with the IC’s report because it did not address the central issue of his complaint. Council still voted 6-2 to accept it. The complainant asked for,
…clarification for the Integrity Commissioner’s reports between stating that a Councillor ”broke no rules but is guilty” and “broke the rules but is not guilty”. Without clarification, the long established community council integrity is at stake as responsible Collingwood citizens will not consider running for election for fear of adverse effects from frivolous integrity requests. Our community democracy will suffer.
This, too, was ignored by the majority of this council as it rushed to fulfill the ideological mandate – apparently set for them by the outsiders who call the shots (I’m told several of them attended in the audience, Monday, to make sure their minions voted the right way…). Paint them all Minion Yellow, Pantone’s latest colour, taken from the film, Despicable Me.
As a result, four of the Bloc Five thus chose to demonize one of their own rather than admit that they had been wrong to accept the first report. They threw her under the bus and put tawdry political ideology before legality, process, and, indeed, ethics. It is a stain on them.
In voting to accept the report, this group sent the message that, according to the IC, one of their own committed the same offense as the former Deputy Mayor. Which was… NOTHING.
That’s right: the IC noted both times that the member didn’t actually do anything wrong, but that – in his opinion – that member should have declared a conflict because the IC thinks it’s the right thing to do. The report about Coun. Doherty was almost identical to the one about DM Lloyd – in fact, some of the paragraphs were apparently lifted completely from it. The IC’s report concludes:
I find that Councillor Doherty did not contravene the Code for the above reasons. Notwithstanding my agreement with the Complainant that she should have declared a conflict, I must dismiss his complaint since I have found no breach of the Code.
So here he tells us he found no wrongdoing, no violation of law or the Code of Conduct (which defines the ethical behaviour of council) but to satisfy the IC’s own personal views, she should have acted otherwise. Just what he said about DM Lloyd.
I don’t believe the town employs an IC to direct council from his own private pulpit, but rather to assess adherence to the rule of law. The IC seems to believe he is the arbiter of council’s adherence to his own standard. I find that very disturbing.
I also take exception to the IC’s comment that,
…the circumstances of this case enable me, in this report, to present a good example for the information of all members of Council, that a conflict should have been declared by Councillor Doherty out of an abundance of caution.
Council members should not be trying to interpret the law for themselves, but should stick to what the acts and bylaws state. It’s really quiet clear and black-and-white. Any other approach is anarchy, not process. There is no way to adequately determine some vague and undefined “spirit” of the law, without each person personally interpreting for him or herself the meaning of the law, and without mixing subjective opinion into it.
As I see it, Councillor Doherty had a conflict and should have declared it, but the onus for transparency is on the individual under the laws set out in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. I believe she failed the public by not openly declaring her employer’s involvement, even if she did not have a legal conflict.
I cannot, however, accept the IC’s pushme-pullyou decision that she didn’t do any legal wrong, but should have declared a conflict because he did not agree with her choice.
I think it’s time for this council to take a hard look at the IC’s contract. I believe we would be better served by having a more objective IC to handle similar complaints; one who puts less importance on his own opinion and more on the actual laws and codes that bind council.
* Councillor Doherty had the grace and good taste to step away from the table during the debate, unlike Coun. Jeffrey who stayed to vote for herself when council was discussing padding her expenses by $40,000.