By Pam Wright
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
North Kent Coun. Rhonda Jubenville has been sanctioned by her peers for breaching the municipal code of conduct.
Following a lengthy discussion and presentations from Integrity Commissioner Mary Ellen Bench and Jubenville’s lawyer Michael Alexander, council voted 13 to 3 to dock Jubenville’s pay for a three-month period.
The recommended action was put forward by Chatham Coun. Marjorie Crew – the harshest penalty available to council.
Those voting against the action included Chatham Coun. Michael Bondy, South Kent Coun. Ryan Doyle and West Kent Coun. Lauren Anderson.
The decision comes on the heels of a 47-page report prepared by Bench following an investigation into social media posts and actions taken by Jubenville, beginning in April of this year.
In a 47-page report, Bench, a Mississauga-based lawyer, clarified her position finding Jubenville to have breached two sections of the code based on the social media posts she made and her behaviour.
Bench said she determined the first-term councillor had used her influence to bully and silence her critics.
Bench added she believed Jubenville “was aware” of her influence as a councillor when making posts on social media.
“It is not about flag raising. It is not about emotion. It is not about Pride, or Christian beliefs or family or any of the other matters raised in the e-mails and phone calls submitted by members of the public to me,” Bench stated.
According to Bench, her job as Integrity Commission was to assess Jubenville’s actions and remarks against the code of conduct. Her ruling covered a number of objections to Jubenville’s words, ranging from singling out other councillors, to targeting the LGTBQ community, to creating a toxic work environment within council.
Earlier this year, shortly after Jubenville created posts encouraging people who disagreed with flying the Pride Flag beneath the Canadian flag at a Blenheim school to let school officials know, a protestor was warned by CKPS about comments he made on the matter.
On Monday night, upwards of 150 supporters, many brandishing photocopied signs reading, “I support Rhonda,” milled around the entrance to the Civic Centre before the doors opened at 5:30 p.m.
But any potential troublemakers were headed off at the pass. Several Chatham-Kent Police Service officers were on hand ready to quell any disturbance or outburst from the mostly middle-aged crowd. The rules of decorum were also read out by municipal clerk Judy Smith with a warning that anyone in violation would be ejected from the meeting.
Within council chambers, spectators were relegated to seating in the centre of council chambers, with only media and municipal staffers allowed in the seats directly behind councillors. Others watched the proceedings on television from an area set up in the civic centre lobby.
In an ironic twist, Bench said she had asked that police be present at the meeting, saying she “feared” for her safety” following comments she had received from Jubenville’s so-called supporters.
Following the vote, Jubenville and her attorney spoke with media outside chambers.
Jubenville said she remains puzzled as to the exact reason behind the Integrity Commissioner’s ruling.
“Democracy, I think, failed today,” Jubenville told reporters, adding she still believes she did nothing wrong.
“Honestly, as some of the councillors have stated, they don’t think I did anything wrong,” Jubenvilled explained. “Those were my opinions and the opinions of thousands of Chatham-Kent citizens.”
She said she will continue to “show up” and take part in the democratic process.
“I’ve never directed a comment – never, ever – to any community,” Jubenville said. “I’ve never directed a comment, you’ll never find in any of my social media, I’ve made comment to any community in Chatham-Kent.”
“I sincerely and genuinely don’t understand, ” she said. “The evidence isn’t there.”
Jubenville added the issue wasn’t about the Pride flag, adding she harbours “no ill will” toward anyone in the in the Pride or LGTBQ community.
As to whether she will take legal action regarding the sanction and the report, Jubenville’s attorney said a decision is being taken “under advisement.”
Alexander said his client has the “right of action” noting he’s concerned that those who lodged complaints against Jubenville remain anonymous.
“The basic problem with the report is you have allegations, but we don’t know who the complainants are so we can’t ask them and find out what they did…perceived,” Alexander said. “And we have no factual background for these allegations.
“It’s impossible to debate the issue without more information,” he said, adding in a normal court proceeding the matter would be thrown out.
He pointed out the municipal code of conduct is “subservient” to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and municipal officials are already governed by existing law.