Code of Conduct concerns remain

Apr 24 • Feature Story, Local NewsNo Comments on Code of Conduct concerns remain

Chatham lawyer and former councillor Paul Watson is the integrity commissioner for Sarnia and Kingsville, as well as Chatham-Kent.

The municipal’s integrity commissioner’s report on the actions of a former councillor may be out of the way, but questions remain among the current council.

Paul Watson, Chatham-Kent’s integrity commissioner, ruled former councillor Derek Robertson violated a section of the Code of Conduct for councillors in regard to his actions seeking to resolve an issue between the municipal building department and local businessman Brent DeNure over a building permit last year.

Watson ruled Robertson violated section 14 of the Code, which relates to Conduct Respecting Staff.

Council voted to receive the report at their most recent council meeting.

Chatham Coun. Doug Sulman motioned successfully to have administration arrange an education session for council members this year in regard to the Code of Conduct.

Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy said he doesn’t find the Code confusing.

“There was some controversy that Coun. Robertson and his legal team felt the process wasn’t followed correctly. In order to clear that up, we’re going to have an education on the process,” he said. “I wasn’t being investigated and I wasn’t the investigator. I assumed Mr. Watson knows what he’s doing.”

Watson said he expects to lead the education session.

“I expect to be the one involved in presenting the educational segment for council. It’s important, particularly with the changes to provincial legislation,” he said. “It’s an integral part of the job as integrity commissioner to provide education to council.”

As Bondy mentioned, Robertson and his lawyer, Steve Pickard, believed the investigative process wasn’t followed properly. They said Watson had written his report before he even interviewed Robertson, and alleged bias.

Watson disagreed with those allegations.

“I was very surprised. I find it unfortunate. When you are viewing a report where someone is making a negative decision against you, you can do one of two things: provide your response to the facts or you can go ahead and attack the process and the integrity commissioner,” he said. “His interpretation was that it was within his scope of responsibility and his duty to bring the matter forward in the way he was proposing to do so. I’m saying, ‘You are not allowed to interfere with the independence of certain employees.’”

Watson said there was no mistake in how the investigation was handled.

“The focus of this procedure should not be about Mr. Robertson and whether or not the integrity commissioner should have interviewed him first or last,” he said. “Really, this report is all about the employees of this municipality and their right to do their job without political interference.

“There were a number of times where Mr. Robertson intervened during the time the chief building official was basically doing his job with respect to making determinations as to what the requirements were under the building code to renovate this building.”

The integrity commissioner said the chief building official (CBO) has to follow provincial guidelines.

“The CBO has statutory duties. The clerk does too. So do the treasurer, lawyers, and accountants and other professionals. They have responsibilities under the Municipal Act to their regulatory authorities,” he said.

Robertson said the CBO is an appointment of council, and as such is a position that is reviewable by council.

“The only one who can strip him (the CBO) of his position is council,” he said. “By me saying I could bring it to council, that is the proper execution of my duty.”

Bondy said technically every employee is an appointment of council, but in reality, councillors have no part in all but one hiring.

“We give all the hiring authority to the CAO (Don Shropshire). It was argued the CBO is an appointment of council, but we don’t hire anybody except the CAO,” he said. “I don’t agree with that. I think we should approve EMT (executive management team) and SMT (senior management team) hires, on the recommendation of the CAO.”

He said councillors usually find out about hires the way everyone else does.

“How do we find out who’s been appointed to positions? By the press releases you guys get,” he told The Chatham Voice. “But we get blamed when there’s a bad hire and we have zero to do with it. That’s the authority we gave to the CAO’s office years ago.”

While the Robertson investigation is now complete, Watson said he has others in front of him.

“I’m at the point of assessing those to determine whether or not there is any validity to investigate any further,” he said. “I get a lot of complaints, whether they are formal or informal. Most are matters outside the scope of the Code of Conduct. It’s just a matter of educating the person making the complaint that this isn’t under the Code.”

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