By Robert Washburn
A recent report by the Integrity Commissioner for Brighton council is important in many ways, not just for reigning in two members, including the mayor, for inappropriate behavior leading to a “dysfunctional state of council”.
Toronto lawyer Fred Deans, acting as the integrity commissioner for the town, submitted a report on March 16, saying a spate of emails sent by Mayor Mark Walas and John Martinello went beyond the legislated mandate of a member of council as spelled out in the Municipal Act and the town’s Code of Conduct.
Councillor Craig Kerr filed the complaint with the commissioner back in October after two employees said there were incidents were council members were harassing them. Residents and former politicians appeared before council pressing them to take action. At the time, the mayor told those concerned that efforts had already been made to resolve the conflicts the previous spring.
There was even talk of the town staff unionizing in order to protect themselves.
The report states the problem centres around a long-standing conflict between Martinello and Craig, a relationship going on before both were on council. The commissioner said this is behind the Code of Conduct breeches.
Martinello, a first-term councillor, was sending lengthy emails to staff with questions from constituents, trying to direct the work of staff, according to the report. This was interpreted as his attempts to overburden staff rather than acting in the interest of ratepayers, the commissioner said.
“This is micromanagement. It is not what is intended in the legislation,” the report states.
Staff undertakes the work of council, not councillors individually; the report goes on to explain.
The mayor breeched the code when he started negotiating the purchase of a truck via email rather than following the purchasing bylaw process. The commissioner states it was done with good intentions, but was beyond his powers.
The report comes down hard on council’s lack of leadership and conflict of interest.
What is most shocking is the section where the commissioner recounts the interview held with staff and council members. Often, people stated, “We are dysfunctional”.
The conclusions are interesting, too. The lack of public sector experience is one. Next, the personal prejudices of council members, who brought their petty dislikes into the council chambers. Then, there was the abuse of staff through micromanaging tasks, clearly demonstrating a lack of respect for the public service. Finally, there is an obvious lack of transparency.
Notably, the commissioner asked to extend his job for five years. Next, it suggests training for staff and council on process and procedures. It calls for the end of micromanaging tasks and a team-building program for council and staff.
The use of email should be restricted, the report recommends and there should not be a penalty imposed on those involved.