POWASSAN – A lawyer recommends the Powassan Council not to impose any sanctions on the council. Debbie Piekarski and this council should not endorse the findings of a code of conduct report by Integrity Commissioner David King.
Piekarski hired H.G. Elston, after King concluded that Piekarski unnecessarily slandered the arena operations staff and also failed to build public confidence in the management of Powassan Arenas.
The findings relate to a Dec. 7 board meeting where arena operations were being discussed.
After that meeting, Powassan businessman Evan Hughes filed a lawsuit alleging that during the meeting, Piekarski said the board should review all rink rentals to ensure staff are using them. rent correctly.
Hughes also said Piekarski suggested staff were renting ice time at preferential rates to some users and not others.
Hughes claimed that Piekarski’s remarks violated the municipality’s code of conduct.
In his complaint to King, Hughes said the word “preferential” used by Piekarski was awkward because “it clearly suggests that the staff are corrupt in their positions”.
Hughes asked how a community leader could suggest staff weren’t being honest without any evidence to back up the claim.
In her response to King, which he included in his report, Piekarski said she made the comments attributed to her at the meeting because members of the community told her that arena staff charged them different rates for ice rental.
Piekarski told King his comments at the meeting “were entirely appropriate” because the board had formed a special committee to look at how to save money in arenas and Piekarski said the rental rate structure fell of the mandate of the special committee.
Piekarski also said the council had a responsibility to speak out on what the special committee would study.
At the regular board meeting on April 19, Piekarski explained how arena staff arrive at the different rates and that this issue was discussed at an arena meeting.
“The arena manager indicated that he had different rates if he had someone arriving late at night who was attached to another rental,” Piekarski told the board.
“And he (the arena manager) will look favorably upon this situation.”
In his report to the board, King sided with Hughes and ruled that Piekarski “failed to exercise due diligence when commenting on arena operations”.
King also felt that Piekarski’s comments “did not build public confidence in the relationship between local government or council staff”.
However, King concluded that there was no evidence to suggest that Piekarski engaged in an abuse of power, nor did she discriminate, bully, harass, verbally abuse, or treat others negatively. .
King noted that there were two possible sanctions on the matter.
A board can either reprimand a board member or suspend the board member’s compensation for up to 90 days.
King recommended the reprimand.
This did not sit well with the other council members.
“I’m not ready to berate a fellow adviser,” Coun said. Dave Breton.
“That should not be part of our mandate.
Mayor Peter McIsaac called the situation “uncomfortable” and added that the nature of the punishment should not be decided by council.
In a four-page letter to council, Elston said his client “was, to say the least, disconcerted by the report’s findings and is concerned about the serious damage to her reputation if its findings were approved by council.”
Elston acknowledged that code of conduct investigations and their eventual findings can be difficult and that he has “the greatest respect for Commissioner King”.
But Elston said King’s report contained several legal errors.
Elston said the errors were so serious that the board should not endorse the findings and sanction his client.
In one section of the letter, Elston says there is no reason to conclude that Piekarski “failed to exercise due diligence or that she acted in a manner that damaged the trust of the in local government”.
In fact, Elston said it’s arguable that by raising the issue of ice rental rates, Pierkarski was “calling for transparency and accountability.”
Elston says these are two ‘necessary ingredients to ensure trust in local government’ and as a council member Piekarski had a responsibility to ask the questions she asked, especially since they are local residents who told him of their concerns about how the ice rates were being enforced.
Elston says that at the December meeting, Piekarski asked him questions in a reasonable and respectful manner without disparaging the staff and added that even King concluded in his report that there was no abuse of authority or that the counselor discriminated against, intimidated, harassed, verbally abused or treated anyone. unfavorably.
Elston also disagrees with King’s findings that Piekarski, without any factual information, slandered arena staff and failed to build public confidence in arena management. of Powasan.
Elston says this finding by King is inconsistent with his later conclusion that Piekarski did not verbally abuse or mistreat anyone.
He claims that the report against Piekarski does not “provide a logical connection between the verdict and the basis for the verdict”.
To illustrate his point, Elston notes on the one hand that King recognizes that it is “the role of a councilor to express an opinion or engage in debate on municipal operations”.
But Elston says King concludes “in this case” that Piekarski’s questions did not build trust in local government.
Elston says the phrase “in that case” suggests to him that King appears to be acting arbitrarily because Piekarski is now the exception to how an adviser should engage in debate.
Elston concludes his letter by noting that under section 223.4(1) of the Municipalities Act, a council has the discretion not to penalize a member of council even if an Integrity Commissioner finds that the member has violated the code of conduct.
An Integrity Commissioner’s report is final and without appeal.
Elston urged the board to reject King’s findings.
Instead, the board voted to receive King’s report and Elston’s letter, taking no further action on it.
But the door has been left open for the matter to potentially come back to council at a later time to close the case for good.
Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.