SCUGOG: Council has decided not to discipline Councillors Don Kett and Jennifer Back for actions an integrity commissioner found breached council’s code of conduct.
At a meeting on Monday, May 29th, council voted to accept integrity commissioner H.G. Elston’s two reports, but to not impose any penalties on the two Scugog councillors.
“This issue has been under tremendous public scrutiny [and] discussion and the impacts are far reaching. The integrity commissioner’s report has brought forward an increased awareness of how members of council should hold [themselves] to the highest standard to ensure fairness and respect, and work together for goodwill and the common good. Based on legal advice, I am suggesting the report be received and no reprimand be imposed,” Mayor Rowett said to those in attendance.
The Mayor also said council will take part in an education and sensitivity training session, on Monday, June 19th.
However, Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew was opposed to the mayor’s recommendation.
“It would’ve been much better for this community to have pulled this band-aid off when the recommendations from the integrity commissioner came before us 90 days ago. The deferral has resulted in an opportunity for: a complaint to the ombudsman; an even more scathing detailed report, from the integrity commissioner; a group to lobby on behalf of the councillors; further hard feelings within the community and prolonged pain for all of those involved,” Councillor Drew said. “The few letters we have received missed the point of the investigation. This is not about the BIA or the process, this is about public statements about a respected member of our community.”
Councillor Drew also said the two councillors’ actions did not match the ideals of the township.
“This is not who we are. Never, in the history of this township and its predecessors, have we had to deal with such a situation,” she said, adding the councillors’ actions have reflected negatively on the township.
Councillor Drew concluded by recommending council approve the integrity commissioner’s recommendations of imposing a reprimand and suspending both councillors’ remuneration for 30 days.
Ward 4 Councillor Wilma Wotten agreed with Councillor Drew, and had a message for the community.
“We have to move forward as a community and we have to start looking together [as to] how to rebuild what has been damaged,” she said.
However, Ward 1 Councillor Betty Somerville supported the recommendation to not discipline Councillors Kett and Back.
“I feel that they’ve been penalized horrendously by the public and by the media for the last 90 days, and I would not want to be in their footsteps now. I think that we should just take the advice of our lawyer, move on and rebuild, and each one of us forgive and forget and make this a better community than what it once was,” Councillor Somerville said.
A recorded vote was held on the motion moved by Councillor Janna Guido, to not impose any penalties on the two Scugog Councillors in question, which passed three to two. Neither Councillor Back nor Councillor Kett voted on the motion as they had a pecuniary interest in the matter. Councillor Drew and Councillor Wotten voted against the motion, but Mayor Tom Rowett broke the tie and voted in favour of the motion.
Both Councillors Kett and Back declined to comment on council’s decision.
Earlier in the meeting, resident David LeRoy presented to council his and fellow Scugog resident John Peever’s concerns about the integrity commissioner’s investigation.
"Our most serious concern is that the appropriate, and well established procedural channels were not followed in launching this investigation. As outlined in the code of conduct, staff are supposed to have council approve an integrity investigation. This did not happen. Instead, staff triggered an investigation and recruited an integrity commissioner without council's express approval," Mr. LeRoy said.
Mr. LeRoy also said the integrity commissioner’s investigation cost the township about $26,000 and the report itself was vague. He suggested that council dissolve the proceedings.
Following the meeting, Mayor Tom Rowett spoke about whether he was happy with council’s decision.
“I’ll be happy with the outcome if we can move forward as a whole and the municipality can begin to mend.
I know, not everybody’s happy for sure. I can say that every single party stakeholder had collateral damage to this, through the process, through it being dragged out, through the reports, through the media, through everything. Everybody had damage, the council had damage,” he said. “As far as I’m concerned, we all lost, get to learn from this, get to learn from the processes and we move forward in a positive light, instead of looking in a rear-view mirror and we make sure that this doesn’t happen again.”
Mayor Rowett also explained to The Standard, why this council has had to deal with several issues of respect.
“I think you have some very strong personalities and with strong personalities, that are very passionate and they stand up for their constituents, it gets lost in actions or maybe not putting themselves in other people’s shoes on how they are being interpreted,” he said. “In general, if somebody is feeling disrespected or they are taking offense from it, the first thing to do is to own up to that, if it wasn’t the intent, and then to make sure you apologize for that outcome and to move forward.”
An investigation by the integrity commissioner was conducted 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, which 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.”
“This result is not surprising, as it is in keeping with this councils track record. They have in fact sent a message loud and clear to the tax payers that they condone bullying and harassing,” Ms. Kozak said.
To see Ms. Kozak’s full response to council’s decision, see this week’s letter to the editor.