April 17, 2013

Mayor clashes with CVC over Code of Conduct

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron is facing a complaint under Credit Valley Conservation's Code of Conduct for board members, amid a series of disputes he has initiated over the board's procedures. Penalties for contravention of the code range up to removal from the board.

Maieron represents Erin on the 12-member board, which governs CVC operations to protect water and other natural resources in the Credit River watershed. He has sent a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne recommending stricter procedures for all conservation authorities.

He argued for over an hour with other CVC members at last Friday's board meeting, but could not get anyone to support his motions for new closed-door meeting procedures, for the nullification of this year's executive elections (in which he lost his Vice-Chair position), or for changes to the Code of Conduct. He did get support for having staff review the election procedures.

Maieron was opposed to the Code of Conduct that the board debated and approved last year. While he says that he is bound by its provisions, he refuses to sign a form, formally agreeing to adhere to the Code. Signing the form is a requirement of the Code.

It was announced at last Friday's board meeting that a formal complaint under the Code had been made against Maieron for refusing to sign it. Afterwards it was disclosed that Halton Hills Councillor Joan Robson is the complainant.

"This is bullying at its finest," said Maieron, but Robson said it is he who is the bully.

"The people of Erin should know what we're dealing with," she said, complaining about the amount of staff and board time being consumed by procedural wrangling.

The Chief Administrative Officer must now set up an information package on the complaint, and provide a report with details of the situation during a board meeting.

Chair Pat Mullin will assemble a special committee of three board members not directly involved in the complaint, which will investigate whether Maieron has broken the Code. They will make recommendations to the full board, which will vote on the matter.

If found in contravention, he could face consequences ranging from a request for an apology, to various forms of reprimand, suspension of pay for up to 90 days, or a written petition to Erin Town Council to have him removed from the CVC board.

Maieron's was the lone vote opposing the recent adoption of a council Code of Ethics for the Town of Erin. He is bound by the Erin code, but it does not require members to sign their agreement. He argues that a code is not needed because existing legislation is adequate to regulate members' behaviour, and that codes should not be imposed mid-term.

Both codes generally set standards of professional behaviour, ensuring avoidance of conflicts of interest and protection of confidential information. They restrict gifts that members may accept, but Maieron argues the CVC code is not specific enough and should have a minimum threshold. He also wants the CVC code to conform to requirements of the Municipal Act, even though that act does not govern conservation authorities.

His main complaint with the CVC code is that board members will pass judgement on alleged offenders. The Erin code provides for the hiring of an independent investigator, which is a more expensive process.

Maieron read a legal opinion from his lawyer Dennis Perlin, saying that the CVC had no legal mandate to create a Code of Conduct. The CVC's lawyer disagreed. Perlin also said he thought it was improper for the code to prohibit members from suing the CVC.

The board rejected Maieron's motion to develop a procedure bylaw, with CAO Rae Horst saying that process could cost up to $86,000 if a consultant was hired.

Maieron had been elected as one of two vice-chairs of the board in 2012, but lost that post (and a $5,800 annual stipend) in the 2013 election. He lost some support due to his refusal to sign the Code of Conduct. He said his concern is not the money, or the position (which has no specific duties), but the process.

With three people running for two vice-chair positions, Horst said the election procedure was changed this year, with legal advice, to avoid confusion that had been a problem in 2012. Instead of having one ballot, with the top two people being elected, there were two ballots and the results were combined. Members were not allowed to vote twice for the same candidate.

Maieron said this created more confusion and worked to his disadvantage. He and his lawyer said any change to the process should have been approved by the provincial government, but the board asserted that it had leeway to structure elections as they thought best. Staff will re-examine the procedure.

Maieron's call for the keeping of agendas and minutes at closed-door meetings was rejected by members, many of whom do not follow that practice in their home municipalities. They said written records of frank confidential discussions could leak out and be used against the interests of the CVC.

Chair Mullin said she took "great exception" to Maieron's call for more oversight, openness and transparency at conservation authorities, which was covered recently by The Toronto Sun. Maieron says it is not his intent to attack conservation authorities.

"I don't believe we can be more transparent and accountable," said Mullin, noting that conservation authorities are under attack by the Progressive Conservatives. "This is not the time to start that kind of conversation."

Rosemary Keenan of the Credit River Alliance, composed of various environmental groups, has monitored board meetings for four years. She has sent a letter to the Sun on her own behalf:

"It is unfortunate that Mayor Maieron of Erin takes such a dim view of Conservation Authorities and Credit Valley Conservation in particular," she said. In drafting the Code of Conduct, the board "devoted considerable time and expertise to ensuring that this was done in a transparent and accountable manner."