July 24, 2013

Mayor could be facing Code of Ethics complaint

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron believes he is facing the first-ever complaint under the Council Code of Ethics, but since the process is shrouded in secrecy, the public may not learn the details until after an Integrity Commissioner investigates and reports to Council.

CAO Kathryn Ironmonger told councillors last week that a complaint has been filed against one of them, and that they are now obliged to hire an Integrity Commissioner. That person can use the powers of the Public Inquiries Act “to investigate in an independent manner”.

At a follow-up meeting on Monday, council passed a bylaw to hire John Craig, who lives just north of Barrie and currently serves as an Integrity Commissioner for several other municipalities. His rate is $175 per hour, plus expenses.

The identities of the council member and the person making the complaint, as well as the section(s) of the Code allegedly violated, are to remain confidential. Periodic reports from the Commissioner to Council are to be made public, but personal identities are to be protected.

Mayor Maieron, however, said in open council session last week that he believes that the complaint is against him.

At the June 25 meeting, Maieron said that former CAO Frank Miele had been "terminated" by council. After being warned by fellow councillors that this was confidential information, he said, "The CAO was let go, whichever way you want to put it."

The Code of Ethics specifically prohibits members from revealing confidential information about Town business, or the details of in-camera meetings (which are closed to the public).

Although the nature of the ethics complaint has not been made public, the mayor said he thinks it involves the June 25 meeting, the one from which he later walked out.

“I read further down the agenda, there is a Code of Conduct violation, and this could be part of it, so I’m starting my defense right now, suspecting I will be the person named,” he said last week. As part of that defense, he requested additional text be added to the minutes of the June 25 meeting about the arguments he had made, saying there were insufficient details.

Before approving those minutes last week, Council agreed that the following paragraph be added, in the section that describes the mayor’s discussion of how the agenda of that meeting was prepared, complaining that a certain item was not included in the regular business of the meeting:

“The Mayor pursuant to the procedural by-law made his concerns known about how and by whom the additional non-scheduled item was added, whether the proper notice was provided to the public for this meeting, and that he requested a item ‘CAO Selection Process’ be discussed in open council which became an item under Notice of Motion for reconsideration without his knowledge or approval.”

The process to potentially promote Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger to the position of Chief Administrative Officer had begun at previous closed-door meetings. It was referred forward to the June 25 meeting and she was appointed, but not until after the mayor had complained that the meeting was being improperly held.

He says that since the meeting was scheduled as an informal staff-council working meeting, council was not allowed to make decisions, and last week he produced a bylaw to back his argument. The other councillors contend that the hiring process had been properly referred to June 25, and that they were legally entitled to conduct regular business.

The mayor had attempted to put reconsideration of the hiring process onto the main agenda for June 25, but in the preparation of the agenda, Ironmonger placed that item at the end – after the hiring was to be completed. Council approved that agenda, with only the mayor opposed, and after he failed in an additional attempt to defer the business to the July 16 meeting, he walked out.

Ironmonger said later that she acted according to established protocol in putting the mayor’s item at the end of the agenda as a “Notice of Motion”. She said that is the proper procedure councillors must follow to initiate reconsideration of a process already in progress.

Erin Council adopted its Code of Ethics last March, despite repeated objections from the mayor. No Integrity Commissioner was hired, since there were no complaints.

Craig has been hired only for the current case. The investigation needs to be complete within 90 days of the complaint, which was made on July 4.

Later this summer, council will look to hire an individual (or firm) for a two-year term, and want to choose from at least three qualified candidates.

The Code says: “An individual, organization or employee of the Town, member of Council, Council itself or Member of the public who has reasonable ground to believe that a Member has breached this code may proceed with a complaint and request an investigation.”

The Commissioner is expected to check to make sure the complaint is not frivolous, and even if a formal investigation proceeds, they are encouraged to seek an informal resolution of the complaint. They are expected to provide periodic update reports to council, and make a final report within 90 days.

If the Commissioner finds that a breach of the Code has occurred, they will recommend a penalty, but council will make the decision on that. Penalties may include a reprimand, an apology, the return of money or a gift (where applicable), or a suspension of pay for up to 90 days. Removal from office is not on the list of penalties.

If the Commissioner finds “that a contravention occurred, however, the Member took all reasonable measures to prevent it, or the contravention committed was trivial or committed through inadvertence or an error in judgment made in good faith, the Integrity Commissioner shall set this out in a report to Council.”

The complete Code of Ethics document and the complaint form are available in the Town Council section of the municipal website, www.erin.ca.