By Chris Pickup
Haldimand councillors discussed the Integrity Commissioner’s report on the ethics complaint filed against councillor Fred Morison, at Tuesday’s committee meeting. Lawyer John Mascarin was appointed Integrity Commissioner by the county when the complaint was first filed, since the county did not have one.
Although a copy of the report was in front of him Tuesday, Councillor Corbett either had not read it, or didn’t understand it, as he seemed a little confused as to why the complaint was not within the Commissioner’s purview.
The filing process first went through the clerk’s office as an informal complaint which gave Morison ten days to answer. The complainant was not satisfied and filed a formal complaint.
County Clerk Evelyn Eichenbaum explained part of the formal complaint had referenced a particular section of the provincial Municipal Conflict of Interest Act which requires a judge to decide the matter, not a Commissioner. It was for this reason Mascarin recused himself.
However part of the first informal complaint that was under his purview, had not been part of the second, formal complaint, and therefore remains unresolved. Mascarin has reserved the right to consider that if the complainant brings it forward and Eichenbaum anticipates that will happen.
Staff will suggest changes to the county’s Code of Conduct, maybe closer to March 1, 2019 when updated legislation comes into effect, and maybe hire a commissioner first to help them, Eichenbaum added.
Mayor Ken Hewitt noted there is confusion as to how these situations arise.
Eichenbaum said every member of a council in Ontario must abide by the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. It is their own responsibility to declare that conflict, and councillors do undergo some training on the subject. It is not up to staff or other councillors to declare conflict for them.
Hewitt stressed it’s crucial people understand, “we can’t possibly know.”
Staffer Karen General noted the county’s Code of Conduct has created some confusion. It’s been around a while and there are lots of changes happening with changing legislation, increased public expectations and with the elections a heightened microscope.
“No-one is to blame for the process. It’s a circular process but it is what it is,” she said.
Councillor Bartlett commented it’s been an exercise in futility. “We have a councillor sitting under a cloud. I don’t see how we can get past this before the elections.”