SCUGOG: An integrity commissioner has ruled Ward 3 Councillor Don Kett did not contravene council’s code of conduct by releasing a press release, on Friday, March 3rd, about the Port Perry BIA approving a forensic audit.
At a meeting on Monday, September 11th, councillors were shown the findings of an investigation, done by integrity commissioner Guy W. Giorno. According to Mr. Giorno’s report, a complaint was submitted, on Wednesday, May 24th, which alleged the press release was “untruthful”, that it “ defamed many business people and other citizens”, and “constituted bullying and harassment”, and the “release continued the conduct that the previous integrity commissioner had found was contrary to the Code.”
Some of the other allegations listed in the complaint include that despite it appearing on township letterhead, the “release was not authorized”, and that it contravened the code of conduct and corporate procedures. The last allegation in the complaint is that Councillor Kett was “abusing his position, including the platform available to him, as a council member.” The complainant was not identified in the report.
The report goes on to state the Ward 3 Councillor, “though not a member of the BIA, is constantly meddling in its affairs.”
However, Mr. Giorno found the news release was “accurate”, he disagreed that it was “defamatory”, stated he did not “find that Councillor Kett failed to exhibit conduct of the high standard required by the code” and found no evidence Councillor Kett had “acted in an intimidating, offensive, degrading, humiliating or demeaning manner toward any individual.”
“I’m very pleased with the outcome of this report,” Councillor Kett said.
This was the second time a complaint against Councillor Kett was investigated by an integrity commissioner. In March, Council received a report from commissioner H.G. Elston, which found that Councillor Kett and Ward 5 Councillor Jennifer Back had breached council’s code of conduct. According to the report, they “repeatedly, without justification, questioned the integrity of the financial management and governance practices of the BIA” which “damaged the reputation of the complainant.”
The complainant, in that case, was former BIA executive director Kenna Kozak. However, at a meeting in June, council decided not to 'punish' the two councillors.
Yet, Mr. Giorno stated in his report, he disagrees with Mr. Elston’s findings.
“While it is not my position to comment on how the previous commissioner disposed of the complaint before him; and I expressly refrain from commenting on the outcome of that prior complaint, I do not accept his interpretations of the Code. I disagree with the previous Commissioner’s interpretations and I decline to follow or to apply them in this case,” he wrote.
But, he also stressed in the report that he has no jurisdiction to “overrule [Mr. Elston’s] handling of that complaint.”
Ms. Kozak shared with The Standard that she was not the one who made the recent May 24th complaint regarding the press release.
As well as receiving the report, council also approved a motion, made by Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew, to have the clerk conduct a review of, and update the current code of conduct by December 4th.
“Based on this report, it is imperative that we undertake an overhaul of our code of conduct,” Mayor Tom Rowett said.
Mayor Rowett went on to say the code of conduct needs to be “clearly defined, black and white” with “crystal clear rules, responsibilities and expected behavior”, and council “need to know the boundaries [they] expect to operate within.”
Regarding Mr. Elston’s two reports to council, Councillor Kett announced at the September 11th meeting his intention to apply for a judicial review of those reports.
Councillor Kett, under the notice of motion section, made a motion to: have the municipality pay “the reasonable legal fees of counsel, to Councillor Kett together with disbursements and any applicable taxes”, and have Scugog Township “indemnify Councillor Kett against any cost awards made against him.”
“With the report coming back and the conflicting evidence, I am requesting to have a judicial review,” Councillor Kett said.
Ward 2 Councillor Janna Guido questioned what he meant by the word “reasonable” in the motion.
“Reasonable to you might not be reasonable to me, and I think if the taxpayer dollars are going to be spent, then we want to be able to justify what reasonable means,” she said.
Councillor Kett said, after having spoken to his legal counsel, his estimation would be “an upside of $30,000.”
However, Regional Councillor Bobbie Drew asked that the motion be deferred to the council meeting on Monday, September 25th, because of the “ambiguous wording” of it.
“I am sorry Councillor Drew feels that way. I sent it in differently and it was reworded for the agenda,” Councillor Kett said. “I do understand what it means, but I’m just not sure how the clerk has written it in.”
Mayor Rowett cautioned Councillor Kett on “making accusations.”
CAO Paul Allore explained that the clerk was merely seeking clarification on the motion.
“I would just like to indicate that I was party to the back and forth emails that went between the clerk and Councillor Kett. The clerk was just clarifying the meaning of the resolution The resolution, I must agree, was not clear and the clerk was seeking clarification. Any edits to the original resolution were done in concurrence with Councillor Kett, and were done to be helpful, so that the resolution could be better understood by council.”