by Isabel Mosseler
February 17, 2021
New information from the Integrity Commissioner (IC) for West Nipissing shows that complaints have generally been a back-and-forth between members of council themselves, complaining about each other’s behaviour, with only three incidents actually leading to any action.
While council had refused to make public the details of complaints emanating from members of council against their own counterparts, the Tribune filed Freedom of Information requests to obtain those details, on the basis that they should be part of the public record. The IC was named to investigate complaints by the public about the actions of council members, however it was suggested by former councillor Jeremy Seguin, who resigned citing a toxic environment at council, that the office was being misused for political purposes. It was further learned that the majority of complaints were emanating from council members themselves, making it all the more important to learn just what was leading to all these complaints.
In response to the Tribune’s requests, IC Patrice Cormier provided the full roster of complaints, 29 thus far, naming complainants and respondents only if they are members of council or municipal staff, and explaining the nature of the complaint and the results. (The names of complainants from the general public were not requested, but the Tribune maintains the position that family members of elected officials and members of the public who have publicly declared an intent to run for office are not exempt from scrutiny.)
The first four complaints were filed by CAO Jean-Pierre Barbeau on behalf of himself and three senior management staff, alleging that Mayor Joanne Savage and various councillors opposed decisions and circumvented communications protocol, impeding staff progress. As the complaint was vague and general in nature, it required further specific information, including correspondence, memos, emails and/or examples. Finally, the complainant was not satisfied with the process and withdrew this complaint.
Asked why the matter was not pursued, Barbeau indicated the process was too onerous and time consuming. “When the IC started there were no forms. There was shouting in closed sessions, and there was an Ombudsman complaint about inappropriate [behaviours]… I said I was going to file for violations, and file on behalf of all of staff, the various violations of the Code of Conduct. What I got back was a request [for an extremely high level of documentation], and I thought it was so bureaucratic… that I backed away… I chose not pursue it given the hoops required to jump through but I would stand by the rationale of why I wanted to [in the first place],” he stated.
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