It won’t surprise anyone to hear that I’ve been receiving a lot of communications since Monday night’s meeting, where integrity reports were addressed. To all those kind neighbours who have reached out – in person, by phone, on social media, and elsewhere – to support me, thank you. Your encouragement for the work I’ve been doing and your concern for my personal wellbeing both mean a great deal to me.
Through the conversations of the last few days, a few key questions have consistently emerged, so I’d like to address them here, for those who have asked, and for those who were curious but did not.
Do you agree with the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling, and why were so many claims dismissed?
Filing a complaint with the IC is a tightrope walk. The complainant is responsible to furnish all of the evidence, not the IC to procure it. On the other hand, the complainant must do so within six weeks of the event of wrongdoing. In many cases, I filed complaints which I sincerely believe to be true and valid, but where I was forced to submit only partial evidence, for a number of reasons. In fact, one freedom of information request which I filed in March is still being investigated by the information commissioner, because one of the involved parties told me directly that additional evidence exists, but chose not to provide it. It was my hope that those parties would comply more willingly with the IC, but I do not know whether that was the case.
I care deeply for procedural fairness and I accept that the IC ruled no wrongdoing, because the requirement was on me, not the IC, to successfully discover all evidence in those crucial six weeks. In spite of my agreement with the IC erring on the side of innocence, it is my continued personal belief that wrongdoing occurred in many or all of these complaints.
Why did you publicize the complaints before they were investigated, if the IC views this as unfair?
In short: because I didn’t know the IC wanted me to.
Several of my complaints centred around concerns about uses of information which I feared could have long-term ramifications for Central Elgin’s financial wellbeing, and many of these I felt needed course correction in a time-sensitive way. Posting to the public about my process was something I undertook in the hopes that it would prompt members of council about whom I was concerned to realize the seriousness of what was happening, and the inevitability of eventual public knowledge. I hoped that by keeping the public engaging actively with council matters, councillors who were treading very liminal lines of conduct might opt to act more fully within the confines of the code of conduct. At the time, I did not yet know that the IC preferred investigations to be confidential while underway.
The code of conduct requires members of council to cooperate with the IC. No part of the IC complaint form makes mention that the IC prefers investigations to be kept confidential by the complainant, and in early phone conversations, I was assured that the IC would maintain my confidentiality, but was not directed that I, also, should do so. It was not until the investigations had been ongoing for many months that I mentioned in passing to a person at the IC firm that I intended to post about something online, and they said they prefer not. From that point, I made sure not to disclose any further information about the complaints beyond what I knew already to be disseminated. I wish I had been aware of this best practice from the outset.
Why waste the money on all these complaints? What are the costs of all this?
Many of these complaints, in their original composition, were framed around a concern for actions which I felt might cause specific economic harm to the municipality. If my concerns were correct, the value lost to our community would have far exceeded any possible cost incurred to investigate. As mentioned above, I continue to hold the personal belief that these complaints may be inadequately-proved but valid.
I don’t know the total cost of the complaints, though I have heard the figures of $35000, $60000, and $80000. The cost of this council can also be calculated by taking minimum wage and multiplying that by the number of hours that citizens of Central Elgin have had to spend because of the council’s disinterest in their respective roles. I paid for my FOIs, but I also poured hours into reviewing the files and assembling materials, and many of those hours were hours that could have been spent teaching, or otherwise productively engaged. That represents far more personal loss to my household than the money spent to file FOIs. While devoting time to this, I also devoted many hours to responding to the needs of my community in ward 2 (as I should), and on top of that, I answered calls from neighbours in other wards who called me as a last resort when their own members of council would not call them back or respond to their emails. And those labour hours – mine and the hours of the people trying to find a person who listens – are a perishingly small amount compared to the costs of CAO recruitment, unplanned consultants, loss of competitive contractors, and potentially mismanaged economic strategies.
Did you file the complaint against Cr. Graham?
No. I was aware of the citizen who did. Though I understood their reasons for objection as a matter of personal values, and I objected in the meeting to Cr. Graham’s motion, which I do not think came forward with acceptable information or transparency, I did not believe her actions would be found to be wrongdoing by the IC.
When did you begin these complaints?
For me, these complaints began in November, on the day of council’s orientation. When staff departed at the end of the meeting, a few councillors-elect began to circulate, suggesting that we should meet before we took oaths not to do so, and take that opportunity to discuss our agendas and how best to make sure everyone would get their victories. My concerns about the spirit of the code existing before we took oaths fell on deaf ears, and I realized that if I wanted to feel that my own personal integrity was secure, I would need to draw some hard lines for myself about what I would accept from my peers and what I would not. Because of that event, I was vigilant to emergent patterns of small but persistent disregards for the code of conduct and the procedural by-law from early on, and it is possible that these patterns became apparent to me sooner than they did to others not aware of the November meeting.
Do you object to playing the anthem at meetings?
Not only do I not object to playing the anthem, but I voted in favour of the motion. I object to the mayor giving unilateral direction to staff, even after being instructed of the scope of his powers, and chastising them publicly for refusing to comply with that.
Will you feel safe/comfortable continuing to sit on this council, knowing their feelings?
When I ran, I didn’t promise my ward that I would make six new friends to grab drinks with on the weekend. Neither did anybody promise that to me. I promised accountability and transparency. As long as we can be tolerably cordial to one another in the chamber, I don’t need to hang my hat on whether or not each of my colleagues wants to be my friend. What I promised, and what my neighbours voted for, was a councillor who would tell the truth. When the truth is uncomfortable, I hope my colleagues will respect that I bring it forward only because I believe in its importance to the community and to democratic process.
Do you believe the process was unfair?
I think council at large might not know this, but Mayor Sloan actually received certain advantages in the investigation against him which I did not receive in mine. When I was informed of the complaint against me, I replied in the required timeframe. The IC then took my reply and sent it back to the complainant for additional comment. When I filed my complaint about Mayor Sloan, he replied late, his reply was still considered, and I was not invited to review or comment upon his reply. I do not assume this to be unfair. My complaint was long and thorough, and I assume the IC felt that no additions would be necessary. But I think it’s important to understand that the IC gave the greatest possible opportunity to the mayor to defend his case, and also gave the greatest possible opportunity to my complainant to fully articulate their concerns. Given that information, I don’t see the benefit of reviewing my case, and I don’t agree with the suggestion that Mayor Sloan was handled unfairly in his. I hope that the council will reconsider these decisions, but I understand that a reconsideration can only be suggested by a member who voted in the majority.
I thank all those – both those who agree with my complaints and those who do not – engaged actively with local politics. The ability of the community to see, understand, and participate in their municipal workings is vitally important. If you have any questions about Monday’s integrity reports which you don’t feel that I’ve addressed here, please don’t hesitate to contact me.