October 15, 2014

Mayor launches Code of Ethics court challenge

As published in The Erin Advocate

As soon as Erin’s Integrity Commissioner had dismissed a series of complaints under the Council Code of Ethics by Mayor Lou Maieron last week, calling them unfounded and in some cases “vexatious”, the mayor announced that he would launch a formal challenge of the process in Ontario Superior Court.

The mayor declared a conflict of interest and vacated his seat at the council table as Integrity Commissioner Robert Williams presented his findings – summarized in last week’s Erin Advocate.

The four other councillors, who were all subjects of Maieron’s complaints, received the reports without comment. The full text of the reports is in the October 7 agenda, at www.erin.ca.

The mayor is launching the judicial review at his own cost, and demanding that fees charged by the Integrity Commissioner during this term of council be refunded to taxpayers. The current case will cost the Town about $7,000 and previous ones have cost up to $18,000. In addition, the commissioner’s contract guarantees that the Town will pay all of his costs, including legal fees and damages, if he is taken to court.

In a flyer distributed inside the council chambers, Maieron says that by submitting affidavits to the court on each complaint and report, he expects that, “The Truth will be revealed to all and a Judge will decide what’s fair and what’s not!”

Although he was the author of 15 out of the 17 current complaints, Maieron said he is the victim of “government bullying”, and complains that the Code has been used “to attack a person’s good name with no substantial evidence or validating court process”.

In Erin’s first Code case last year, an Integrity Commissioner ruled that Maieron was a “bully” who had violated the Code by abusing Town staff and improperly leaving a council meeting. In a case this year, he was found in violation on seven complaints, including improper handling of conflicts of interest linked to his lawsuit against the Town and improperly revealing confidential information. In each case, council imposed a penalty of one month’s pay.

He hopes the new council will abolish use of the optional Code of Ethics, which he calls a “kangaroo court”, and that it is ultimately removed from the Municipal Act, “so small town municipalities do not needlessly suffer as Erin has.”

Commissioner Williams admitted that there are uncertainties in Erin’s Code and provincial law, including right of reply for the defendant and how a council would decide on penalties if several of them were found to have violated the Code. He plans to write a report on the issues.

Williams suggested a blackout period so complaints could not interfere with an election campaign. He also said council should consider a “chargeback” provision, so that anyone making unsupported allegations could be forced to pay for the cost of the process.

He said a Code complaint involves an affidavit, essentially swearing an oath that the evidence supplied is true. The current complaints were largely without evidence and composed of broad allegations that did not even identify how the Code may have been violated, Williams said. The mayor contends that his complaints were “backed up by solid evidence”.

As soon as council had received Williams’ reports, Maieron accused him publicly of violating the Municipal Act by not maintaining confidentiality in a previous case, by naming an individual in his report. Williams disagreed, saying that he had acted properly with the powers granted to him by the Municipal Act, and that the identity of that individual had already been made public in court documents related to the complaint.

The Code of Ethics is intended to set behaviour standards for elected council members only. Complaints can be made by anyone, with the name of the complainant and defendant remaining confidential until the Integrity Commissioner makes a public report.

The commissioner has broad powers to conduct an inquiry, but it is an informal process of private interviews and non-public examination of evidence. After the report is made, the complaint itself and any evidence not reported by the commissioner remain confidential.