Integrity Commissioner report to Brighton Council – February 18th, 2014

Posted by on Mar 26, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

This post is in response to the report titled “The Powers of a Municipality Shall be Exercised by its Council” filed by Mr. Nigel Bellchamber of Amberley Gavel Ltd, Brighton’s Integrity Commissioner. Although the report is simply dated “February 2014”, it was presented in person to Brighton Council by Mr. Bellchamber on February 18th, 2014.

In my opinion this is a poorly written and confusing document with little value to the taxpayer. Mr. Bellchamber doesn’t employ thorough or consistent investigative techniques and as I have written before, how can we make sense of a report that does not fully detail the actual complaints that the report addresses? Talk about filling space, how many single sentence paragraphs can you have in a report? Personally, I also find it useful if report pages are numbered for easier reference.

In the section of the report titled “Complaints” it merely states, “The complaints are in essence the same complaint, each with a slightly different different focus. They demonstrate as mentioned earlier, demonstration of a substantial lack of respect for the role of appointed staff”. I am not a grammatical wizard, but saying “They demonstrate as mentioned earlier, demonstration of…” makes no sense to me, let alone “…a slightly different different focus”! How slightly different, is the different focus?

However, if we back up to the “Introduction” Mr. Bellchamber states that “The complaints could also have been investigated under the Council’s adopted Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Policy” but provides no information as to why it was not. Would that investigative work have been provided Mr. Bellchamber or someone else? Also, even after the conclusion of this lengthy and costly process, could duplicate complaints still be filed under the other mechanism, incurring further costs to the taxpayers? These questions and many others could have been answered by Mr. Bellchamber, but he left before the public question period.

Considering this, whose idea was it for Mr. Bellchamber to read his report in person? Including the time, travel, meal and other associated expenses, I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost for this alone was close to $2,000. If in-person delivery wasn’t necessary for the previous report delivered to Council, why was it so important for him to deliver this report in person? Surely Mr. Bellchamber could have delivered his report via Skype to save tax dollars?

Back to the “Complaints”. The first complaint was filed as a result of a motion passed by Council. According to Mr. Bellchamber “This motion was passed on February 1, 2013 and relayed to Amberley Gavel Ltd as the Municipality’s Integrity Commissioner, with a request that the investigation not begin until a formal employment contract had been negotiated between the Council and the CAO, Ms. Frost.

This I find quite odd. As you can see below, the direction from Council does not indicate that there should be any delay in the investigation. If the request for a delay did not come from Council, on whose direction and under what authority was this direction given? So did a certain member of Council instruct the Integrity Commissioner to delay the report without authorization from Council? If they did, why did they do so and what are the implications for this unauthorized direction? I find this particularly troubling considering that Mr. Bellchamber’s report is titled “The Powers of a Municipality Shall be Exercised by its Council”.

Brighton_Council_Vote_Feb1_2013

According to the Municipality of Brighton Code of Conduct by-law 029-2010 item # 5.2.3 v. “The Integrity Commissioner shall submit a final report on the complaint to Council, no later than 90 days after the making of the complaint, outlining the findings, the terms of any settlement, or recommend corrective action.

Why did this report take over a year to complete, when it should have been completed within 90 days? Why did Council accept this report from the Integrity Commissioner without complaining about the tardiness of the reporting? Why do certain members of Council submit complaints to the Integrity Commissioner with regard to breaching the Municipal Code of Conduct, yet are entirely unperturbed when the Integrity Commissioner is in breach of the code?

The second complaint is a single paragraph which does not even mention when the complaint was filed, or who made the complaint. The Integrity Commissioner concludes “No further comment is warranted on that complaint itself”, although he does actually comment on it later on in his recommendations. My interpretation of that complaint is, even though it is included in the report, it is really so petty that it doesn’t warrant wasting any time on it. Perhaps that is why the Integrity Commissioner did not inform Councillor Tadman that there was a complaint against her. Seeing that the complaint was frivolous, why was it included it in the report? Additionally, in the recommendations section Mr. Bellchamber states “We concluded that Councillor Tadman was encouraged to breach the Code with respect to Complaint number two and is advised to be more cautious in the future“. So, he concludes that Councillor Tadman did not actually breach the code, only that she was encouraged to do so by someone else. Please explain to me how an individual can be more cautious about an action that someone else performs?

The third complaint was filed by “four senior staff members” and the Integrity Commissioner goes on to say “Although the complaint referenced behaviour of Mayor Walas and Councillors Tadman and Martinello, the evidence submitted directly concerned Mayor Walas”. If I understand this correctly, baseless complaints were received against Councillors Tadman and Martinello and yet the Integrity Commissioner still references them in his report. Why did he do this and why did he not inform Councillors Tadman and Martinello that they were the subject of a (baseless) complaint? Under the Brighton Code of Conduct, “5.2.3 ii The Integrity Commissioner will proceed as follows: (a) serve the complaint and supporting material upon the member whose conduct is in question with a request that a written response to the allegation be filed within ten days;Why isn’t the Integrity Commissioner following the directions of Council and why does this not concern Council? If we have a complaint against the Integrity Commissioner, who do we complain to? This is another example of why we need oversight by the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman.

Additional questions arising from this complaint: Did the employees file a grievance with the union? If so, why did the Integrity Commissioner not mention this? If not, why did they file a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner, but not file a grievance with the union? Since the staff were making accusations without providing evidence, were they cautioned or reprimanded for doing so?

After reviewing this report, another question comes to mind. If legal action were to be taken against the Integrity Commissioner as a result of a report supplied to the Municipality of Brighton, would the Integrity Commissioner be liable for the legal expenses incurred in defending such an action, or would the liability of the fees reside with the taxpayers of Brighton? I asked this question to CAO Gayle Frost and she was not able to answer the question. Councillor Mike Vandertoorn suggested that I should look into it myself, so I asked the Integrity Commissioner this question directly, but Mr. Nigel Bellchamber from Amberley Gavel has yet to reply.

If certain members of Brighton Council are happy to pay $300/hr of taxpayers’ money for this level of reporting, then I am in the wrong business! As such and since you don’t need to be a lawyer, I will be offering my services as an Integrity Commissioner. If you know of any municipalities that are in the need of affordable (much less than $300/hr) Integrity Commissioner services, please tell them that you know of an Idiot that is looking for work.

 

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Ontario Government proposes new bill to expand oversight by the Ontario Ombudsman

Posted by on Mar 17, 2014 in Commentary, Local Politics, Politics |

Great news coming out of Queens Park, but first a quick comment regarding the latest report from Brighton’s Integrity Commissioner, Nigel Bellchamber. I have been asked what I think about the report and I will be writing about it in more detail, but in a nutshell, I think that it’s a pathetic waste of taxpayers’ money. I don’t see any benefit to the taxpayer whatsoever and I hope that Councillors use other avenues available to them to resolve conflicts and address complaints. If necessary the Code of Conduct should be completely re-written or eliminated altogether.

Back to the news, on Thursday March 6th, the Ontario Government proposed a bill that would expand Ontario Ombudsman oversight to the MUSH sector. Teleconference call from the Ombudsman Andre Marin.

The bill would empower the Ombudsman to investigate public complaints about municipalities, universities and school boards. It also creates a new Patient Ombudsman for complaints about hospitals and long-term care homes, and gives the existing Provincial Advocate for Children and Youth the power to investigate children’s aid societies.

The Globe and Mail also featured an article, “Ontario set to strengthen Ombudsman’s powers

Shortly after the announcement, the Association of the Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) came out against greater oversight by the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman in their press release “Provincial Oversight of Municipal Government

The reason they give is “It represents duplication and inefficiency, and importantly, it suggests that Wynne’s Government does not trust in the capacity of municipal government to expose and address questions about performance and integrity“. I fail to see where there is any “duplication and inefficiency” and the Government isn’t alone in not trusting “the capacity of municipal government to expose and address questions about performance and integrity“. As we have seen in our Municipality and elsewhere in the Province, performance and integrity are lacking, to say the least!

I am also concerned when AMO makes a statement like the following where they are referring to AMO as an elected body, which they are not.

Municipalities are committed to accountability and transparency. Public trust is one of our greatest assets. A municipal government that lacks public trust has every reason to earn it, and good government is best served when local municipalities meet that goal independently“.

We, the taxpayers of Brighton are paying AMO $3,800 this year to supposedly advocate on our behalf, but with statements like these, it looks like they are only interested in representing the interests of Council members and not the citizens that fund the organization.

Councillors Martinello and Tadman see the value of having greater independent oversight from the Office of the Ontario Ombudsman and are putting forward a motion asking that Brighton Council to show support for the proposed bill.

Notice_of_Motion_Martinello_Tadman_Ombudsman

 

I hope that this motion will be supported by all of Council, showing the citizens of Brighton that indeed Council is acting in the best interest of Brighton and they are committed to working with the Office of Ombudsman to provide greater transparency and accountability to the taxpayers that they represent.

 

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