Integrity commissioner finds Northeast Town mayor, council blameless following citizen complaint

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NORTHEAST TOWN—Council for the Northeast Town had the chance to review the findings of its integrity commissioner, Stephen Watt, during its August 23 meeting. The complaints were filed against council in January of this year and were numerous. However, the integrity commissioner found council to not be at fault in any of the instances in its first ever complaint against them.

The first complaint filed by the individual was regarding the haying and cropping of an unopened road allowance. The second complaint stems from a letter to council which was placed on the August 31, 2021 agenda for consideration regarding the complainant’s grievances with the haying and cropping as well as the spreading of manure on the road allowance. As the letter was put on the agenda, it became a public document discussed in an open meeting of council, which the complainant deemed to be in contravention of the municipality’s code of conduct.

Thirdly, the complainant levelled accusations that the CAO, Dave Williamson, has tried to “influence council and to justify his lack of enforcement…In our opinion, mayor and councillors are taking direction from the CAO and are not exercising their own role under d(1) which is to ‘ensure transparency and accountability…of the activities of senior management.’” Mr. Watt said he disagreed with that statement saying they were in full compliance with their statutory obligations.

The complainants also claimed Councillor Bruce Wood to be in conflict as a relative of the person undertaking the farm practices on the unopened road allowance and for allegedly having a pecuniary interest. While he does not have any legal jurisdiction over the allegations of conflict as laid out by the Municipal Act, he states that he does not believe there to be any conflict of interest or pecuniary interest. Councillor Wood told Mr. Watt in an interview that no money has ever been exchanged, but rather, as is the way with many Island farmers, a helping hand is offered, for free.

The integrity commissioner found that when it comes to the undertaking of haying, cropping and spreading manure on road allowances, it did not meet the objectives required of his services as set out in the municipal code of conduct and that there were other actions available to them, such as complaints to the Ministry of Environment, Conservation and Parks and the Normal Farm Practices Protection Board, all of which had been done. He also found that “It is not within the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioner under the NEMI Code of Conduct to provide some form of appeal mechanism for the complainants on decisions taken by the current council, property standards committee or the former council in 2016, based on a disagreement over an interpretation of the “policies, practices and procedures” which applied to their decision-making.

As staff, not council, readied the council agenda, thereby choosing to make the letter a public document and not one to be discussed in camera, the integrity commissioner found no fault as the actions of municipal staff is not in his purview. Staff, deeming the letter, which contained the complainant’s name and email address, to not be confidential in nature, placed it in an open meeting for discussion. The integrity commissioner states that the complainant is perusing further action through Ontario’s Information and Privacy Commissioner.

“Having reviewed this extensive formal complaint carefully and in its entirety, I am of the opinion that there are not sufficient grounds for an inquiry to proceed,” Mr. Watt writes. “My review indicates that no breach of the NEMI Code of Conduct has occurred relating to either the council meeting of August 31, 2021 or the Property Standards Committee meeting of July 7, 2021. Much of what has been raised is beyond the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioner to consider.”

This report cost the municipality just over $13,000.