Integrity Commissioner advises Mayor she has a Conflict of Interest: Mayor vacates the Chair and sit in the Chamber Gallery

By Pepper Parr

April 18th, 2023



Janice Atwood, one of the two partners of Principles Integrity moved the focus of her presentation to council on the matter of Conflicts of Interest saying:

Janice Atwood Integrity Commissioner for city of Burlington.

“I want to address an issue that I know has come up and it’s circulating; and that is where an individual such as the member in this case of the Committee of Adjustment has made campaign contributions under the municipal elections act to candidates who may now be sitting as Counsellors – does that not raise a conflict of interest for those members of council ?

“There is no obligation to recuse or step away and not to participate. So just to clear the air on that one. In order to publicly clear the air and in an effort to address the perception that there may be some conflict of interest, a perception that there may be some bias if you will, or a preconceived preference for a contributor, it is probably is helpful for the members of council to openly indicate that they embrace their responsibilities with an open mind notwithstanding any such contributions, their obligations to serve in the adjudicated capacity that Councillor Sherman mentioned earlier, and that is to hear and make a determination at the conclusion of receiving the integrity commissioners recommendation report.

“So that’s really on that particular subject. I think that’s that’s all that I need to say. If there’s any question on that particular issue. I’m certainly happy to address that and then I’ll launch into my comments on the report. Is there a question just on that ?

“Go ahead, Counsellor Kearns current.

Councillor Kearns steps in to serve as Deputy Mayor when Meed Ward is found to have a Conflict of Interest.

Thanks. So, I want to recognize, of course that I’ve had contributions to my campaign which are disclosed and public information now from the person identified in the report.

“Is there any other concerns that I should be aware of? That I would need to disclose whether they worked on a campaign, or had like gone to their house or anything like that, or is it just the only concern regarding potential or perceived conflict, just the campaign donation?

Atwood: Through the Mayor, that’s, an interesting wrinkle, Counsellor Kearns. Certainly, the perception of a bias or the perception of a, an apparent conflict of interests would arise based on a relationship and that is what we think of as a non pecuniary interest.

Is there a perception of a bias in this photograph? The Mayor and her husband on the right are having dinner with the Leblovics; he is a member of the Committee of Adjustments

“The common law concept would include those relationships which are so close that the public would the reasonable person and not just the objective test, would look at that and say, well, that that individual is unable to really deal impartially with that matter, because of the you know, the profound relationship or the long standing relationship, etc, that kind of thing.

“So we see that from time to time arising as well. It’s a non pecuniary it’s a common law, concept  what would that look like?

Meed Ward: Well, if if an individual were good friends with the member and they had, for example, been to each other’s houses or spent a great deal of time and one of the examples we use as if they’re over in your backyard, having a barbecue from time to time or you might go to their cottage from time to time those kinds of things definitely raise the perception of an inability to deal impartially with the matter and ought to be recognized publicly as giving rise to an apparent conflict of interest.

Atwood: Thank you, Your Worship. The advice of Principles Integrity is that a member say: I hereby state that I did receive a campaign donation from the respondent in this matter, to acknowledge that contribution and make a formal and public commitment to set aside any preconceptions in order to decide the matter with an open mind. I trust that will be sufficient and I would be I do not have any significant relationship above and beyond that with the respondent. Thank you. Would now be the time for anybody to declare that or should we wait until statements ?

Integrity Commissioner: I guess we’re kind of in it now so let’s just dispatch with this. There may be several folks that wish to comment on this. I think it’s a really important item to clarify for the public before we even get started.,

Councillor Galbraith, you are next.

Councillor Galbraith

Yeah, similar to Councillor Nisan and Councillor Kearns, I was also a recipient of a donation from the complainant. But I don’t have any other close relationship or any ties with him whatsoever.

Councillor Bentivegna

Counsellor Bentivegna  Do you want to comment on this item only? Go ahead.

“Just a quick question to the Integrity Commissioner on this conflict of interest.

“In my experience, conflict of interest is self directed only I can feel whether I have a conflict of interest with someone and I’m assuming every one of us at this table feel the same way. You know whether it is or it isn’t. My question is if there is no conflict of interest declared can someone bring it forward to the Integrity Commissioner later requesting an investigation on not declaring through the Mayor.

Atwood:  Yes. That’s a there’s sort of a blend of of things I would say but that one is the onus is on the individual member to identify a conflict of interest and to declare it and to take appropriate action.

Bentivegna: “Clearly, but anybody can look at a situation and say on those facts that looks to me like a conflict of interest, and then they can raise that as a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner. Now, certainly on the circumstances that has that we’ve just outlined or that I’ve just outlined to you with respect to a simply a contribution under an election campaign that’s properly disclosed under the municipal elections act that in and of itself does not give rise to a conflict of interest and if a complaint came in on that basis, it would get very short shrift. Thank you for that.”

Mayor Meed Ward then said: on this item “I have a relationship with both the complainant in this case and the respondent. So I will declare that the complainant is a friend and neighbour living around the corner from where I live, I’ve been to this person’s house and see them regularly and they also donated to my election campaign.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward sitting as Chair of the Council meeting is found to have a Conflict of Interest and turns the gavel over to the Deputy Mayor and sit in the Council Chamber Gallery

“With regards to the respondent. I have a personal friendship with the respondent have been to their house and they also made a donation to my election campaign and I am, like my colleague, formally declaring my commitment to maintaining an open mind with respect to the matters before us and doing my best to receive all of the information that is before us, including from the delegations to make a decision ultimately about this matter.

“So I guess a point of clarity from you –  does a personal friendship over and above a campaign donation since I have one with both the complainant and the respondent require me to recuse myself from this matter ?

Yes, Madam Mayor, it would.

Meed Ward: “So I will need someone to gavel; the deputy mayor is Counsellor Kearns; you are now in possession of the chair and I guess I will step away entirely from the desk and I will sit in chambers.”

Political power can be lost – just like that; something Council members need to keep in mind

Kearns then asked: “subject to there being any other questions should I proceed? No ?. So I need to say my piece:

Principles Integrity serves as the Integrity Commissioner for 50 municipalities in Ontario.

Kearns: “I want to say that I have donations in 2022 from from Nickolas Leblovic and in 2018. I had donations from the complainant. I have no relationship whatsoever besides anything cordial that I would have with anybody else and I can fully conduct myself without bias.

“So I can stay I guess as the gavel holder for the moment.”

Atwood: Our role as an Integrity Commissioner, as you know, is to independently and impartially, review complaints, make findings where necessary, and make recommendations were warranted and Council’s role is to publicly receive the integrity commissioners report and decide whether to impose sanctions if any are recommended. And in this case, there are no sanctions recommended and whether or not to approve the recommendation.

Principles Integrity serves as the Integrity Commissioner for about 50 municipalities across Ontario, including all of Halton

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4 comments to Integrity Commissioner advises Mayor she has a Conflict of Interest: Mayor vacates the Chair and sit in the Chamber Gallery

  • Lynn Crosby

    One wonders why the Clerk or mayor wouldn’t have asked this question prior to the respondent’s delegation, the attempts to change the rules to let him have extra time, the running of the meeting by the mayor as Chair when multiple questions to the respondent allowed him to continue speaking at length after the initial 5 minutes, asking questions of him herself, and later cutting off delegate Jim Thompson twice as he tried to answer a question from Lisa Kearns, if my memory serves me correctly. Seems a bit backwards, but then I’m not a lawyer …

    • Jim Thomson

      Yes it was backwards, but are you surprised?
      The surprise for me was that the extra time wasn’t granted. When I arrived in the Council Chamber the Mayor was in discussion with Nicholas and his wife. They weren’t talking about the weather. I don’t think the Mayor would have recused herself if the Integrity Commissioner hadn’t raised the issue.

      As for the Clerk he can’t even follow the Procedure Bylaw Article 32.4 about what qualifies as urgent business. Only the exemption for the Sound of Music festival had anything remotely approaching a justification for why it was urgent or time sensitive. The motion from the Mayor and Councillor Sharman wasn’t even attached to a staff report.

      • Lynn

        Apologizes for misspelling your surname, Jim.

        I too was surprised that a certain councillor didn’t jump in to second the motion for extra time, except perhaps it was clear by then that they didn’t have the two-thirds support required. And, as it turned out, it wasn’t needed anyway.

        It sure was lucky that Councillor Galbraith asked the first questions and the respondent told him something to the effect that this was the very thing he wanted to talk about next. Then of course he had questions from the mayor and from Rory, and the rest, and he ended up getting the extra time after all.

        What wasn’t surprising? That you didn’t get questions from the mayor or anyone but Lisa and when you were answering them, you seemed to get cut off twice and your delegation was over in a flash. Council rules do make it easy to allow some delegates to speak ad nauseum for ages and others to be quickly shown the door. This is nothing new of course, but it’s frustrating and silly. I also think council members shouldn’t be speaking with any delegates in chambers prior to the meetings. That’s not new either but at the very least, the optics are terrible.

        • Jim Thomson

          My delegation was over in a flash because I had prepared comments in the expectation that council would approve the extra time. I also had some prepared comments that weren’t relevant as they had already been covered in the question period.
          It was obvious from the questioning that there were three votes to approve the IC recommendation. They weren’t going to just receive and file the report.

          I don’t think Leblovic’s “friends” on Council did him any favour by asking him all those questions,
          The First Law of Holes is stop digging. They just kept giving him shovels.

          I think he clearly demonstrated why he shouldn’t be on the CoA and that the complainant was right to ask for his removal.

          The complainant was in chambers and she appeared pleased with the outcome, she complimented the Integrity Commissioner on her presentation.
          I guess that’s what really matters.