DAN CEARNS The Standard
SCUGOG: Council will decide in May if Ward 3 Councillor Don Kett and Ward 5 Councillor Jennifer Back will be reprimanded, and if so how severely, for actions deemed by an integrity commissioner to have breached Scugog council’s code of conduct.
At a meeting on Monday, March 6th, Councillors were shown the findings of an investigation done by H.G. Elston. The investigation began after former executive director of the Port Perry BIA Kenna Kozak made a complaint on October 3rd, under Scugog’s code of conduct for members of council, that claimed “Councillors Kett and Back have repeatedly, without justification, questioned the integrity of the financial management and governance practices of the BIA and, in the process, have damaged the reputation of the complainant.”
Ms. Kozak’s complaint is that both Councillors are in violation of section 4 of the code, which states that members of council shall not “maliciously or falsely injure the professional or ethical reputation of staff.”
“Councillors Back and Kett have assiduously sought to uncover proof of the BIA’s failings, targeted its board and management, imposed on township staff and, in the process, done great harm to the reputation of the BIA and its executive director,” H.G. Elston’s report states.
Mr. Elston’s report also goes on to state that “the allegations of missing budgets and secret meetings are, for the most part, false.”
Mr. Elston said that he spoke to Councillors Back and Kett, as well as Ms. Kozak, and members of the BIA and the local Scugog community over the course of his investigation. He also stated that he reviewed “hundreds of pages” of items such as emails, invoices, financial statements and newspaper articles and watched the Township’s previous council meetings on YouTube.
The report concludes that “both Councillor Back and Councillor Kett have breached the code. In particular, they have been disrespectful of the BIA board and its Executive Director, and have sought, in their individual capacity, to interfere with and intimidate them.” Mr. Elston recommended that council suspend the remuneration paid to Councillors Kett and Back for 30 days.
Ward 1 Councillor Betty Somerville questioned why Mr. Elston did not assess each Councillor’s conduct separately.
“You should have divided this, not generalized it. What is the purpose of generalizing it?” Councillor Somerville asked.
Mr. Elston explained that the complaint was against both councilors for the same breach of the code.
“I don’t describe it as generalizing it, but what struck me was I had one complaint against both members of council for the same conduct and the very same sections of the code,” he said.
Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew said it appeared that Mr. Elston made every effort to get a balance of opinions from the community before making a decision.
“I can say, I take this very seriously. It’s obvious that people’s reputations are being discussed, and I try my very best to listen carefully to everybody I talk to and to hear both sides and have a balanced collection of all of the submissions I hear, and then to take some time to reflect on it,” Mr. Elston told Councillors.
However, council approved a motion made by Councillor Somerville to defer any decision on whether to reprimand both councilors, or what penalty they could face if council decides to reprimand them, to a meeting in May.
“We only received this information last Wednesday, which is only just five days ago. It’s still resonating an emotional problem with me and I really am very upset about what has gone on,” she said. “I’ve reviewed this information, but I haven’t seen the whole picture.”
Ms. Kozak stated her opinion of council’s decision in an email statement to The Standard.
“I was informed this morning that this legal disciplinary matter from the Integrity Commissioner has been deferred for 90 days. What message does this send to our youth? I will not make any further comments until after 90 days,” she said.
At a council meeting in October, Ward 3 Councillor Don Kett made a motion to add an extra council representative to the BIA, and also spoke about his concerns about the organization’s transparency.
“I was just trying to do my job and I guess I’m sorry if I offended anybody, but most of the stuff I don’t believe ever happened,” Councillor Kett told The Standard on Monday. “Maybe I still have to improve my communication skills, because basically everything I was charged with was on tape and I didn’t feel that it was that bad.”
Councillor Back stated her opinion of what was in the report.
“I categorically reject the conclusion of this report. In my opinion, certain supporting argument is factually inaccurate, certain supporting argument is presented in breach of confidentiality. The evidentiary timeline is not consistent with the conclusion. The conclusion is premature. The inference of public disclosure substantially exaggerates the actual public record disclosure, and no supporting argument is presented at all for the allegation of intimidating staff,” she told The Standard.
The two councillors have had their actions in council chambers called into question before.
At a meeting in May 2015, both were asked to apologize to Councillor Drew, for comments made during a motion to relieve her of the title of deputy mayor.
In January 2016, Councillor Drew again asked for an apology from Councillor Kett, for what she saw as “totally unfounded” allegations. However, Mayor Tom Rowett ruled that an apology was not necessary.
An integrity commissioner is an independent and impartial position, that was retained by council to address the recent complaint.
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