December 11, 2013

Mayor loses month's pay for Ethics Code breach

As published in The Erin Advocate

Mayor Lou Maieron was slapped with a one-month suspension of pay by Town Council last week, as they voted 3-2 to accept the results of an investigation into his behaviour under Erin’s Code of Ethics.

Integrity Commissioner John Craig investigated five allegations made by Councillor Josie Wintersinger and found Maieron in violation on three of them.

He also recommended the Town pay for a leadership training course for the mayor, and that they hire a facilitator to help council and staff “set a path to a more cooperative working relationship”.

Councillor Barb Tocher made the motion to accept Craig’s recommendations. It was seconded by Councillor Deb Callaghan and supported by Councillor Josie Wintersinger, who had made the allegations against the mayor on July 4. They offered no comments before casting their votes.

Councillor John Brennan asked the mayor if he wanted to step aside from chairing that section of the meeting, but he declined. Maieron said later that he had consulted his lawyer and was confident that he had the right to speak in a debate that concerned his pay.

Brennan voted against the motion, saying it would be an ineffective act of retribution.

“Trying to force the mayor to undergo training, that’s a waste his time and of taxpayers’ money. Suspending remuneration for a month, is that going make the situation better, or is that going to just pour gasoline on the fire?” he said.

“I think it effectively means that for the rest of this term of council there’s going to be a mini-war going on. I don’t see any way of reconciling if we do that. The hope of reconciliation is slim, but I would rather try and get that reconciliation because I think that’s in the best interests of the people of Erin.”

On the allegation that the mayor revealed confidential information by discussing the firing of former CAO Frank Miele, Craig said he “technically” breached the Code, but that it was “not a significant transgression”. On an allegation that he accepted an improper gift on his China trip, Craig ruled he had not done so.

He was cleared of providing false information to the public on the process for recruiting a new CAO. But on an allegation that he improperly left the council meeting at which former Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger was appointed CAO, as a protest of procedures, Craig found he violated the Code by failing to provide leadership.

“I did try to provide leadership, and enforce the policies and rules of this council, and council just couldn’t defer it for one week,” said Maieron.

It was alleged that statements and emails by the mayor were intimidating, demeaning and harmful to the reputation of staff and others. Craig said while the offenses could be “considered somewhat low on the range of misconduct, the Mayor's behaviour repeatedly crossed the line into forbidden territory.”

Maieron rejects the recommendations and said he was “standing up for democracy”. He said the investigation was “one-sided, with the integrity commissioner holding all the cards”, and that the complaints from Councillor Wintersinger were “frivolous, vexatious and made in bad faith”.

He says some Town staff have been hostile to him. Craig reported that the mayor rarely uses his Town office except when the public is present, “for fear that anything he does or says may lead to an accusation of Code of Ethics violations.”

Craig called this “a ridiculous assertion – unbecoming of a person in a leadership position, yet consistent with his self-portrayal as the victim.” Maieron said at the council meeting, “I don’t attend the office, because I don’t feel safe here.”

Members of the public were given permission to ask questions at the meeting, and some were surprised to learn that Craig had been hired by council for this one investigation at a cost of $175 per hour plus expenses. Although the total bill has not been compiled, Craig estimated it could be $12,000 to $15,000.

“It is a disgrace,” said one resident. After the meeting, Craig said that his rate is “cheap” compared to others doing similar work, and that the bill would have been considerably lower if the mayor had not sent him so many emails and documents.

Maieron accused him of exceeding his authority, but Craig said he has broad power under the Public Inquiries Act to seek out supporting evidence beyond that which was originally submitted.

Maieron argued that the penalty he was given is too harsh, since it is his “first offence”. The maximum is a three-month pay suspension.

He asked that his one month of Town pay, about $1,900, be donated to the local Food Bank, but councillors did not want to make that decision immediately. He will continue to receive his pay for serving on County Council.

“I’m rough around the edges, but I know my job, to look after the taxpayers,” he said, claiming the report is a “defamatory” and a “character assassination”.

He said the email that got him into trouble was about a safety issue raised several times by a resident which took 17 months to resolve.

He offered no apology, saying that there was “collusion to diminish my role as mayor” and that “the public can decide” on his conduct in next October’s municipal election.

“I will not be muzzled,” said the mayor. Within a few minutes of the vote on the integrity report, as the meeting continued with other business, Maieron publicly chastised a senior staff member, including a personal comment. This sparked a loud and bitter protest from Councillor Tocher.

After the meeting, Councillor Wintersinger said she made the Code complaints for the benefit of Town staff and Town Council.

“He has made a mockery of the whole process, twisting everything around,” she said. “You can’t talk to the man. It’s just one argument after another. We are moving backwards.”