The lawyer of a municipal council member (2014-2018), who is reportedly under review over a code of conduct violation, wants the municipality’s integrity commissioner to step away from the investigation.
Steve Pickard, the lawyer for a male councillor from the previous Chatham-Kent council, accused integrity commissioner Paul Watson of mishandling the investigation.
Pickard, who declined to name his client, said Watson had all but wrapped up the investigation and had prepared his report – without interviewing the councillor in question.
In a document obtained by The Chatham Voice, Pickard told Watson, “…you sent me a copy of a report that was in all sense final and asked for our comment. You had not interviewed my client and you ignored all requests to interview my client or anyone else that my client suggested had important factual information for your investigation. The last such request was on Feb. 1. I received no response.”
Attempts by The Voice to reach Watson were unsuccessful. A call to his office revealed he was out of the country at press time.
Don Shropshire, CAO for the municipality, said he’s aware of Pickard’s complaint, but does not believe Watson had submitted a final report.
“Paul had done his investigation. He talked to the people other than the person who the complaint was about. He completed his report, gave them a copy, gave them an opportunity to review it and they were to meet,” he said. “My understanding is it was never presented as a final report. The integrity commissioner was going to give them a chance to reply.”
Watson, in his March 7 article in The Voice, “Watson takes on additional integrity roles,” said one investigation was indeed under way into the code of conduct and that a report would be issued within 30 days.
Pickard said his client did receive a request for an interview from Watson, but only after a senior administrator for the municipality contacted Watson on Feb. 11, asking if the commissioner had interviewed Pickard’s client.
“Given your change of heart which seemed only spurred on by serious questions about your conduct by the municipality, we requested the information upon which you had relied on so that my client might prepare for your interview. You flatly denied to produce any information and left my client with no more than a vague two-sentence complaint and your final report,”Pickard said in his message to Watson.
“Given your treatment of my client, your lack of interest in interviewing him or other witnesses, and given that your report was already finalized and signed, we requested your recusal. It seemed very apparent that you had already drawn your conclusions despite not even speaking or asking for any information from my client. It was not reasonable to believe that you had an open mind or that your report would change in any significant way. There exists a reasonable apprehension of bias.”
The meeting between Pickard’s client and Watson is slated for March 18, Pickard said.
“You then requested that the written response to your report be delivered by March 18 and preferably before the interview. This means that we are responding to the report that we received a month ago that was written without any interview with my client. How can our response to an old report be of any use unless you expect no significant change? How is this not concrete evidence of your bias toward the outcome without even hearing from my client?” Pickard wrote.
“We respectfully request that you recuse yourself from this investigation to allow an unbiased investigator to deal with this issue.”
“This was a draft report. The individual will have ample opportunity to respond,” he said.
Pickard declined to go into details with The Voice as to what led to the allegations of violating council’s code of conduct.
“My client strongly denies any contravention of the code of conduct and firmly believes that in the matters in question their conduct was nothing but the proper reporting to council and administration of a serious issue of the exercise of council’s statutory duties,” Pickard said in his message to Watson.
By way of clarification, I did not make any comment regarding recusal of the Integrity Commissioner. My comment related to my understanding that the document provided to Mr. Pickard’s client was a draft report.
Don Shropshire, CAO
Municipality of Chatham-Kent