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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  Editorials Code Of Conduct = Some Great Terminology

by Doug Harvey

Just as I was beginning to have some respect for the local political landscape, another somewhat questionable deal goes down. In order to gain back some lost respect several years ago, Politicians decided that a Code of Conduct was some great terminology to use to polish up their sagging political image. The whole scheme from a distance seemed really impressive, especially when they used some great terminology like "Code of Conduct", "Integrity Commissioner", etc., etc., but when the whole scheme gets tested, fails, and produces a lemon, well that's just not right, send it back, it still might be under warranty.

As a taxpayer I never thought that I needed this Code of Conduct stuff, but those pesky politicians just had to have it, and by the way it does not run on hot air, so it's not free, and it does cost us several dollars to run. But yet again as a taxpayer, (I hate using that word as it makes me feel worthless!), there is one thing that really bothers me about all this Code Of Conduct stuff because I just don't seem to understand how such a simple case brought before the Integrity Commissioner could break this Code Of Conduct thing. But yet again as a taxpayer, I just hate paying for something that doesn't really work. Is there a refund policy?

While looking at the Integrity Commissioner's Report that we as taxpayers will pay for, I can only wonder how a simple phrase "F--- off" and that infamous flying bird could have caused such a commotion, and having to pay for that invoice for four and half hours of Integrity Commissioner's time for an altercation that took less than 30 seconds to commit, just seems a little outrageous to me, but maybe I'm wrong, and I will admit to that, I think?

Also I'm passing along some interesting information about the current Integrity Commissioner's position that may become more or less useful to any interested parties for that position of Central Elgin's Integrity Commissioner which could become available in the very near future.

From the Report Regarding the Conduct of Councillor Dan McNeil dated February 14, 2018:

The Complaint

On February 8th, 2018 I received, via Central Elgin' s Deputy Clerk, an unopened and sealed envelope containing a formal complaint and Affidavit from Mr. David Harding, resident of Sparta, Ontario. Mr. Harding has granted permission to use his name in this public report.

Mr. Harding through his complaint alleged that at Central Elgin' s Open House on its proposed sign by- law held on January 16, 2018 he had an altercation with Councillor Dan McNeil. In his statement, Mr. Harding claimed that he approached Mr. McNeil and stated " Dan you know I still don' t trust you." Councillor McNeil, it is alleged, " stood tall" and said: " F--- off and raised his middle finger."

Mr. Harding claims to have been taken aback by Councillor McNeil's loud voice and aggressive, intimidating manner and Mr. Harding immediately left the building.

The following day at a K.C. C. A. meeting Mr. Harding approached Mayor Marr and explained his interaction with Councillor McNeil the previous evening. Mr. Harding alleged that Mayor Marr said nothing and displayed no reaction". He, the Mayor, offered no direction to the complaint process or" how to seek remedy".

The Inquiry

As Integrity Commissioner, I immediately began the investigation by reviewing Central Elgin's Code of Conduct and other relevant policies such as Harassment Prevention followed by telephone interviews with Mayor Marr, Councillor McNeil and Mr. Harding.

Mayor Marr reported that he did not witness the altercation on January 16th, 2018 at the Open House for the sign by- law. He did acknowledge that Mr. Harding approached him just before the in- camera portion of the meeting at K.C. C. A. the following day and relayed the specifics of the alleged violation. Mayor Marr subsequently notified Central Elgin' s CAO/ Clerk that a complaint from Mr. Harding may be forthcoming.

Councillor McNeil admitted matter of factly that he did indeed swear at Mr.Harding and that he considered Mr. Harding's assertion that he did not trust him as an affront to his integrity. Councillor McNeil claimed that Mr. Harding was asking to speak to him about a matter that the Councillor told him many times was off limits. As Integrity Commissioner, I reiterated that the Councillor's conduct was a clear violation of the Code of Conduct to which Councillor McNeil said " I couldn't care less about the Code of Conduct and would react the same way in similar circumstances."

Analysis:

Given Councillor McNeil' s admission of conduct and behaviour on January 16, 2018 there is no disputing the contents of Mr. Harding's Affidavit and account of the altercation. What is concerning is Councillor McNeil's total disregard for Council's Code of Conduct and his behaviour, tone and substance of interpersonal interactions. Specifically, Councillor McNeil has violated several Sections of Council' s Code of Conduct as follows:

  • Section A: General Standards of Conduct
    • Members SHALL conduct themselves at all times in a manner that: (vi) is consistent with the legal deliverables governing interpersonal interactions( i.e. civil and respectful and free from harassment..)
  • Section C: Interpersonal Conduct and Communications: Requirements General:
    • Members have important legal responsibilities and accountabilities in connection with the tone and substance of interpersonal interactions, conduct or communications pursued in the context of carrying out the activity attending a Member's office." One of the main purposes of the Code is to ensure that Members understand and comply with standards of conduct required at law such as the complete avoidance of harassment. " Failure to adhere to the required Standards of Conduct can expose both the municipality and individual Members to potential liabilities," in this case exposure to a Human Rights Complaint.
    • Harassment includes making unwelcome remarks, and insulting gestures which cause embarrassment or awkwardness. In fact, Section 2. Personal and Psychological Harassment: Includes unwelcome words and or actions that are known or ought reasonably to be known to be embarrassing, humiliating or demeaning.
  • Section f): Compliance/ Accountability/Enforcement
    • The Municipality recognizes that the Municipality and the Members have a mutual interest in providing and encouraging access to compliance/ enforcement mechanisms in connection with the conduct required by this Code that deliver objective, independent, skilled and efficient determination in connection with the alleged misconduct by any member." There is a duty to assist complainants in regard to alleged non-compliance by a Member which is further emphasized in Section E below.
  • Section E: Other Compliance/ Enforcement Rights Beyond the Referral to the Integrity Commissioner
    • The Municipality has an obligation and commitment to support complainants or potential complainants access to .... processes in connection with allegations of prohibited activity, conduct or communications.
Conclusion:

The facts are indisputable and have been corroborated by the honest admission of Councillor McNeil. While Councillor McNeil asserted that Mr. Harding attacked his integrity by challenging his trustworthiness, Councillor McNeil had other options to respond rather than to swear and gesture provocatively. He could have expressed his displeasure with Mr. Harding by telling him that those comments are hurtful and unwelcome or he could have walked away, among other options. He chose none of the less offensive routes and, in fact, admitted that he would do it again under similar circumstance while also admitting that" he couldn't care less about the Code".

In addition the Mayor and, for that matter, all Members of Council, have an important obligation to treat complaints or potential complaints seriously and refer the complainant to the remedies available. For example, in this case, the Mayor who advised the CAO/ Clerk that a complaint may be forthcoming could have asked the CAO/Clerk to contact the complainant directly to explain the procedure(s) available to him. I wish to highlight the importance and obligation of all Members to inform complainants of remedies available to them and to refresh their understanding of the Code.

I do not recommend any remedial actions in this instance. Remedial actions require participation of the Member which seems unlikely.

Even though this is Councillor McNeil' s first reported violation of the Code of Conduct, his actions and admitted disregard for the Code are sufficient to warrant the following recommendations:

Recommendation

That Councillor Dan McNeil be reprimanded; and,

That Councillor Dan McNeil' s remuneration be suspended with respect to services for a period of 30 days.

All of which is respectfully submitted,

Mark G. McDonald, Integrity Commissioner
Independent Resolutions Inc.


Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2018 12:47:58 PM EST

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