By Mike Williscraft
A council accountability tool – Integrity Commissioner complaints – got tweaked at Monday’s Grimsby Committee of The Whole meeting to allow all filings to be made public.
The move – approved in a 5-4 vote with Coun. John Dunstall voting in favour with Councillors Lianne Vardy, Dorothy Bothwell, Reg Freake and Mayor Jeff Jordan – was approved with a hope to eliminate “frivolous and vexatious complaints [that] are costly to the taxpayers”, according to the motion made by Vardy.
Councillors Kevin Ritchie, Randy Vaine, Dave Kadwell and Dave Sharpe opposed the motion to allow for more transparency of the process.
The full motion reads:
Whereas as a Council we are committed to openness and transparency; and
Whereas Integrity Commissioner complaints are serious undertakings which reflect on the behaviour of Council members; and
Whereas frivolous and vexatious complaints are costly to the taxpayers;
Be it resolved that all Integrity Commissioner complaints; whether won, lost, a draw or withdrawn or deemed not to be further investigated be made public, and cost of all complaints so that transparency is achieved and frivolous and vexatious complaints are not preferred.”
Sharpe noted something needs to be done since $20,000 has been spent on complaints, with all of them coming from councillor vs councillor filings.
“Councillors need to stop making complaints about each other simply because they disagree,” said Sharpe.
Freake said some have used the process to “hide behind” complaints made, then withdrawn after time and energy had to be spent to defend.
Ritchie spoke against the motion saying the change would cost taxpayers’ dollars, but it was confirmed the change carried no cost.
For Bothwell, the change is a step forward.
“We need to be transparent about how often this happens,” she said, adding costs should also be made public.
This was added to the approved motion as a friendly amendment.
Vaine, too, said complaints should remain confidential, claiming some filings have been done to protect “terrified” staff who don’t want to issue a complaint themselves.
Vardy, who brought the motion did not agree.
“Having been the target of a frivolous complaint, it does concern me how the process is being used,” said Vardy.
She noted something had to be done since comments made by Integrity Commissioner Charles Harnick after a series of six complaints came to council July 20 fell on deaf ears. Harnick said council needed to move forward and stop wasting time with petty claims.
“We tried the Kumbaya method. It lasted less than one hour,” said Vardy.
“You know who you are. You cannot hide and put people to the trouble of having to deal with these (complaints).”
The reasoning, for Vardy was simple.
“If you want to accuse someone of something, put your name to it and let it be known,” Vardy said, making the process “fully open and transparent”.
This, she added, would stop the use of the complaint process as a “vehicle for harassment.”
Clerk Sarah Kim said a full report on complaints made in 2020 will come to council in January after she can “close off the year”.
The change will be ratified at council’s next meeting.