A farce or a tragedy? It is certainly people playing fast and loose with the way staff are deployed.

Pepper Parr

January 24th, 2023

BURLINGTON, ON

OPINION

Let me set the stage for you.

When you have finished this article you can decide if this is a farce or a tragedy.

In May of 2020, I personally did an interview with ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte on how had she found the first couple of years as a city councillor.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte at a community meeting.

Councillor Stolte with Georgie Gartside while she was serving as the Administrative Assistant

During that interview Stolte mentioned a situation she had with the administrative assistant that had been assigned to her. The woman, who was not identified, told Stolte she didn’t want to work as an Administrative Assistant. Sometime later she was reassigned.

When we published the story, Georgie Gartside complained that anyone who read the story would know that she was the person Stolte was talking about. Basically Gartside self-identified herself

Stolte, being a decent person (my opinion) immediately apologized to Gartside, which apparently wasn’t enough.

A complaint was taken to the Integrity Commissioner who said they did not see it as something they needed to investigate and deliver an opinion on but they added, according to Stolte, a formal apology would be in order.

The Integrity Commissioner did not say Stolte had to apologize – just that they thought she should – which she did.

That apology is another story which is a tragedy. Mayor Meed Ward took it upon herself to attempt to force Stolte to apologize during a Council meeting last June.

Stolte said she would not do that – but she would apologize during the comments section of the meeting which takes place at the end of a Council meeting. Which she did.

Georgie Gartside, has worked at city hall for at least two decades.

As reporters we were stunned by the Mayor’s behaviour and produced a segment that took readers through what happened at City Council in June. Here is a link to that 14 minutes of “I can’t believe this” behaviour.

Prior to what we will call the apology incident Councillor Stolte said at a Standing Committee meeting how much it was going to cost the city to purchase and renovate the Bateman High School which had been declared surplus.

The Mayor very much wanted the city to buy the building and make part of it a community Centre which she felt was needed in that part of the city.

There was a fear in the city that the property would be bought by developers and turned into a field of condos.

Now that the important decisions have been made the city is going to ask the public what they want to see done with the 200,000 square feet of space that will be available for public use.

Stolte broke a serious rule when she spoke publicly about an issue that had been discussed in a CLOSED session of Council.

Two council members (Nisan and Galbraith) filed a complaint with the Integrity Commissioner who found that Stolte had broken a serious rule and docked her five days’ pay.

Stolte took the view and said publicly that it was worth losing five days’ pay to make the information public.

Sometime after city council brought in a law firm to advise them on their CLOSED door meetings policy. They advised Council that some changes were necessary, which was the position Stolte had taken all along. And changes were made – the public gets to learn a lot more about what is discussed in CLOSED parts of Council meetings.

The city was approaching an election in October of 2022. Stolte wasn’t sure she would run. There were very few candidates for council seats that brought much in the way of experience

In March of 2022 Councillor Galbraith met with the Integrity Commissioner asking for advice on possible Conflicts of Interest he faced as a result of property he owned in his ward. The Integrity Commissioner told Galbraith that he would be in a Conflict of Interest and that that he was required to declare that conflict whenever Council was discussing property developments that were near his land holdings.

Kelvin Galbraith talking to constituents weeks after being election to Council in 2018

Galbraith did not tell his constituents about the advice he had been given by the Integrity Commissioner.

However, an Aldershot resident who followed council meetings very closely began to dig around and learned of the advice Galbraith had been given by the Integrity Commissioner.

He made that information public – about ten days before the October 2022 election. The result: Galbraith was re-elected because the people in Aldershot just didn’t know about the Conflict of Interests problem.

The Aldershot resident who made the Integrity Commissioners’ advice to Galbraith public learned the hard way that there are consequences when you go up against city hall. He received a note from Galbraith, the city councillor, that his office would no longer be sending information to the constituent. That one is going to come back and bite Galbraith in the rear end.

Aldershot residents learned early in December, well after the election, that there were problems in Galbraith’s city hall office. His Administrative Assistant moved on – to greener pastures?. No one knows.

It took a bit for Galbraith to get a new Administrative Assistant.

Last week Galbraith welcomed Georgie Gartside as his new Administrative Assistant.

The reaction was immediate from those who follow city council.

Why would she take a demotion” said one reader. Previously Gartside had been Clerk to one of the Standing Committees.

She was also the Administrative Assistant to Meed Ward when she was councillor for Ward 2 and she was at one time Administrative Assistant to Rick Goldring.

Another asked WHY.

Blair Smith a former Assistant Deputy Minister and a volunteer on the first Meed Ward election campaign said in a Gazette comment:

“I think the point here is that the practice of not responding to difficult questions or critical observations is condoned if not encouraged by she who sets the tone for the administration. The irony of this should escape no one; a populist mayor who took the chair on a wave of transparency, accountability and engagement promises. One phrase that I remember from my many campaign meetings in 2018 was that she was going to “open the windows of City Hall and fill in the moat around the castle”. Four years and two elections later there is nothing to show except the appointment of a hapless, enabling Clerk and a virtually absent City Manager. The Communications Department is the only sanctioned voice of the administration; a carefully controlled single throat to choke. These are only my observations of course but I would be pleased to debate the state of “open government” and true citizen empowerment in Burlington with anyone from either the Council or the staff bureaucracy.”

The connection between Gartside and Meed Ward goes back some distance. It is unusual for an Administrative Assistant to be politicized in this manner.

That seems to be the way this city council works.

City Manager Tim Commisso at a city council meeting. He has a decidedly different management style and sees this job as the best he has ever had in his career as a municipal civil servant.

Questions that get asked are:
Did Galbraith ask for Gartside to serve as an Administrative Assistant? What role did the Mayor play in all this?

The placing of staff in whatever position they serve in is an administrative matter that is controlled by City Manager – did he approve of the transfer from the position of a Clerk of a Standing Committee, which calls for a very deep understanding of the rules that are followed at Council to being an Administrative Assistant ?

It has to be said that Gartside has been a very good Committee Clerk, probably the best one the city has. She frequently finds herself advising the City Clerk on procedural matters.

What we are seeing is people playing fast and loose with what is important – how the city is administered. It doesn’t do very much for morale at city hall.

Lay this one at the feet of the City Manager.

Salt with Pepper is the musings, reflections and opinions of the publisher of the Burlington Gazette, an online newspaper that was formed in 2010 and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

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3 comments to A farce or a tragedy? It is certainly people playing fast and loose with the way city hall staff are deployed.

  • Penny Hersh

    The only thing that would be more ridiculous is if Georgie was assigned as the assistant to Councillor Shawna Stolte.

    With what is happening at City Hall this could definitely become a possibility.

  • david

    Comedic Tragedy? The Mayor has learnt well the ways of governing by observing the current federal model. Quite fascinating really, wonder if she’s been getting pointers? If you want to get the bigger picture, look at a smaller less complicated one.

  • Lynn Crosby

    So the integrity commission complaints, to the “integrity commissioner” paid by the city – this is neutrality? – have been submitted by … Rory, Kelvin and Georgie. The mayor then seems to have a lot to say on them.

    Maybe they could just get to work and stop all this nonsense. Stop with the hired consultants and shallow media statements.

    And what happened to the rest of council? Anybody home?

    “True leaders don’t create followers; they create more leaders.” I like that quote.

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