Norfolk County’s integrity commissioner has more to say about Mayor Kristal Chopp’s report-ripping incident at Norfolk council earlier this year.
In a second supplementary report filed on Sept. 12, Toronto lawyer John Mascarin takes council to task for acting “as an enabler” of the mayor’s behaviour.
Mascarin re-iterates his contention that Chopp’s apology for publicly scolding a senior planner at council Jan. 8 was inadequate. Chopp’s criticism of a staff report on the advisability of backyard chickens in urban areas included a dramatic tearing of the report into two pieces.
Planner Mat Vaughan was at the podium when this occurred. The incident was live-streamed, televised and reported on extensively in the local media.
Mascarin’s latest report focuses on council’s subsequent actions.
Mascarin rejected Chopp’s Facebook apology for her behaviour as inadequate but council over-ruled him. Council not only accepted the apology June 11, it reimbursed the mayor June 18 for the two weeks’ salary Mascarin docked as punishment.
“Coun. (Ian) Rabbitts spoke at the (June 11) meeting about this matter `distracting from the business of council’ and that `council needs to get on with the business of governing Norfolk County.’” Mascarin said in his report.
“Good governance does not just entail providing the residents and businesses of Norfolk County with service at the lowest cost. It also requires that its local elected representatives act with an adherence to its stated ethical principles and values as set out in its code (of conduct) and other policies and guidelines.
“Wilful blindness is not an option when dealing with matters of integrity. Council’s fiduciary duty to the residents of the county does not relate exclusively to fiscal responsibility. It also demands a strict adherence to matters of integrity.”
In a 6-1 vote, council accepted the apology Mascarin rejected. The same resolution also said, “that no further action be taken.”
Mascarin rejects the latter because, he said, council cannot tell an “independent” integrity commissioner what to do.
Mascarin also criticized the modifications council made to its code-of-conduct in response to the Chopp incident as self-serving.
At its June 11 meeting, council amended its code to give it final say on the recommendations of the integrity commissioner. As well, council ruled that any council member who is the subject of an integrity complaint is entitled to know the identity of their accuser.
“It would be too convenient for council to simply instruct the integrity commissioner to stand down when it determines that the integrity commissioner’s findings and determinations are not to its liking because it castigates political allies or simply because the investigation becomes ‘too costly’ or `too distracting,’” Mascarin says.
“To the extent that council’s resolution to `take no further action’ was directed to the integrity commissioner, it is invalid.
“To be clear, council has the authority to make amendments to its code and it does not have to follow any recommendations made by the integrity commissioner. However, the timing and haste of the two recent amendments cannot be viewed as anything other than an attempt to immunize the members of council from challenge via complaints under the code.
“Council has made its decision with respect to Mayor Chopp’s contraventions of the code. Rather than seeking to deter inappropriate behaviour on the part of one of its members, council has decided to act as an enabler. This matter is now concluded.”
Coun. Chris Van Paassen moved that Chopp be reimbursed for lost salary at the June 18 meeting and is mentioned in Mascarin’s latest report by name. Last Friday, VanPaassen thanked the integrity commissioner for the time he has devoted to this matter and is pleased that Mascarin too has moved on.
“I have read the supplementary report and appreciate the level of detail he (Mascarin) again provides council to help guide us in future deliberations,” Van Paassen said in an email.
“At our council meeting in June, my opinion was that since it was council that had asked for the apology, it was up to council to decide if the mayor’s apology met the standard required under the Apology Act.
“Council did accept that the mayor had met that standard and passed a motion to that effect and — in my mind — the matter was closed. I am glad to see that the integrity commissioner also agrees that this matter is concluded and council can now focus on other pressing issues.”
Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele seconded VanPaassen’s motion. On Saturday, Masschaele said he has no regrets and that there is wide-spread public support for how council handled this matter.
“I received numerous emails in support of council’s decision,” Masschaele said. “In those correspondences the matter of letting council get on with its work was highly expressed.”
In an email Friday, Mascarin said he has waited this long to respond to council’s actions because a supplemental report in the middle of summer when council is not in session could easily have fallen through the cracks. Mascarin added that resigning in protest over council’s actions is not on the table.
“I have not considered resigning at all,” he said. “This council appointed me to a defined term and I believe I would be abdicating my responsibilities to step down from the position simply because certain members and — to a degree — the council as a whole are behaving in a manner that any reasonable person would consider unsuitable from an ethical perspective.
“One of my statutory functions as an integrity commissioner is to educate members on matters of integrity. I do hope to be able to do so through my reports and to continue to shine a light on behaviour that council itself has set out in its own code of conduct as being inappropriate.”
Former Simcoe Coun. Peter Black was one of two complainants to Mascarin about the report-ripping incident. He’s not surprised Mascarin has followed up with a report castigating council for its handling of the matter.
“I know the integrity commissioner is extremely frustrated with this mayor and council for their clear lack of understanding of the word `integrity’,” Black said in an email Friday.
“I am sure he feels this council has all but abdicated its ethical responsibilities. This may be why he has waited so long — to let the dust settle and see if cooler, calmer heads prevailed to correct this wrong. He
has given them plenty of time.”
Chopp did not respond to an email request for comment Friday. At the meeting where council voted to reimburse her for lost wages, Chopp declared a pecuniary interest and vacated the council chamber.
Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts also did not respond to a request for comment.
Recent provincial legislation requires all municipalities to retain the services of an independent integrity commissioner.