The Cost of Accountability is Five Days’ Pay

By Shawna Stolte

April 14th, 2022



On April 19, 2022 my colleagues on Burlington City Council will vote on recommendations of a Report by the Integrity Commissioner on my behaviour. It is their right to do so, and it is my right to provide my perspective on the public record.

I encourage Council to give serious consideration to the recommendations in this upcoming report, but I am disappointed by the choice made by Councillors Nisan and Galbraith to formally call my integrity into question instead of working collaboratively to resolve the issue.

A fractured divided Council that has let everyone down.

The word “integrity” is defined as “the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.”

I have tried to uphold the principle of integrity over the course of my first term of Council in every decision I have made, as well as a consistent and uncompromising adherence to the values of transparency and accountability as vital components of the democratic process.

I believe Burlington’s Council was elected in 2018 with a mandate for change and a promise of increased openness, honesty and transparency. Yet, the number of agenda items being moved into Closed/Confidential Council discussion and without providing meaningful information to the public about the general nature of the matter being considered, has increased during this term of Council.

Every one of my Council colleagues are aware of how concerned I have been over the last 18 months regarding the procedures by which Council matters are dealt with in Open vs Closed Session Meetings.

I have exerted considerable efforts over the past year, without success, working with my Council colleagues, our legal department and the City Clerk seeking support to establish and implement a Closed Meeting Protocol for Council. We need policies and updated procedures that adhere to the best practices set out by the Ombudsman of Ontario and the Association of Municipalities of Ontario, and which remove any perception that Closed Meetings are used to hide information from the public.

It has been clearly defined in the Municipal Act, the Ombudsman of Ontario and leading case law that “simply put, it is insufficient to simply parrot the test of the statutory exception (e.g. ‘Confidential Update on a Legal Matter’) by simply re-stating it without adding additional context…as this fails to provide meaningful information to the public about the general nature of the matter being considered in closed session”.
Absent very clear protocols, I must find the right balance myself and I chose to share as much information as possible on issues where I strongly believed that important information was being inappropriately withheld from the public.

I was not secretive about the sharing of this information, but open and transparent regarding the reasons, that serve the public good, for sharing information. This fact is documented on the public record.

In response to my actions, Councillors Nisan and Galbraith expressed that they were satisfied with the status quo and saw no need for a Closed Meeting Protocol. Furthermore, they made clear their irritation at my approach to continually bringing this concern forward for resolution.

Instead of choosing to work with me and collaborate on resolving this critical issue Councillors Nisan and Galbraith chose instead to issue four complaints against me with the Integrity Commissioner in January of 2022. Ironically, the complaint itself was made secret, and I was forbidden from informing the public.

The Final Recommendation Report from the Integrity Commissioner was released on April 8, 2022 and will be part of the public agenda at Council on April 19, 2022.

I acknowledge that while attempting to highlight and force discussion on this important issue, the Integrity Commissioner has determined that I potentially crossed the line on two technicalities resulting in a recommendation to suspend five days of my pay.

Personally, the key points in this report state that “it is the obligation of the municipality to ensure that Council’s resolutions maximize transparency so far as possible” and that “Councillor Stolte’s position regarding the adequacy of the resolution for closed session meetings has some validity and the City should consider modifying its closed session resolutions to both quantify and disclose items that are to be given closed session treatment”.

Ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte

I applaud the vast majority of this report as it supports what I have been fighting for on behalf of our constituents. I am delighted that the Commissioners Report has vindicated my actions regarding the concerns I’ve expressed about our closed meeting protocols and practices and I urge my colleagues to adopt the recommended changes as to how Council conducts its business.

Ultimately, if five days salary is the price of finally having a mature conversation that results in Burlington Council adopting an effective Closed Meeting Protocol, then it is one I am happily willing to pay.


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16 comments to The Cost of Accountability is Five Days’ Pay

  • Bruce, it is not up to the Mayor as Chief Executive Officer or Head of Council to make the decisions around how thing gets handled. It is up to the Mayor like all councillors to make sure the public interest and transparency requirements of their cumulative roles are upheld. This can only be achieved if the public are allowed sufficient time to review the Integrity Commissioner’s report (we pay for) and have the opportunity to address their issues of concern at a public council meeting where they can choose to appear at the lectern or attend by zoom. We are sure that most taxpayers in this City are not yet aware of the issue and its impact on Council decision making.

  • From our perspective the Oath of Office takes precedent over any rules and we believe a Court of Law would uphold that if keeping quiet is not in keeping with the Oath: ‘I ________________, do solemnly and sincerely promise and (swear or affirm) that I will duly, faithfully and to the best of my skill and knowledge, execute the powers and perform the duties entrusted to me as a (name of office)”, the rule gets thrown out. Those powers and duties are to protect the public interest which a lot of people believe is what Stolte was doing – and, thereby, upholding her oath of office, unlike those who did not agree with her and started this insane complaint without any public discussion. We pay for this investigation we should have a right to say yes Nisan and Galbraith go ahead, or no it is totally inapprpriate to do so as Stolte was doing her job in this case. That is what was meant by we do not know if she broke the rules and won’t unless it goes before court of law. A meeting with time to digest the information and have people at the lectern to delegate if that’s what they want is a must.

    • Jim Thomson

      Why is this complaint “insane”. The Integrity Commissioner found it had merit.
      One of the duties inherent in the oath of a councilor is to maintain confidentiality.
      Nisan and Galbraith have the right and maybe even the duty to refer complaints to the integrity commissioner when they believe confidentiality has been broken. They don’t need the permission of the public.

      You say you don’t know if she broke the rules but claim Stolte was doing her job.
      You can’t have it both ways. Part of her job is not to break the rules.

  • Robert Steven

    I am sorry to learn of this dispute, and especially of the secrecy around the complaint or allegations themselves. It has always been my experience that transparency is most feared and despised by individuals and organizations whose positions cannot withstand examination. I hope that is not the case in this matter.

  • Bruce Leigh

    OK. One by one.

    Hersh, you have no grasp on the way things must be dealt with in 2022. If the two councilors had worked collaboratively to cover up Stolte’s deliberatecacts to breach confidentiality rules they two would be complicit. Rules are there to be followed. Just because you do not like a 40km speed limit on a street does not make it ok to go 80km.

    Hersh, why was the investigation kept secret? For the sake of fairness to all, particularly Stolte. The police keep the details of investigations secret so as not to influence the public mind as to guilt or innocence of the person being investigated.

    You applaud Stolte for breaking the rules? Would you applaud your accountant or your lawyer for breaking your confidentiality because in that instance they felt it the right thing to do? Of course you would not.

    Mayoral candidate and supposed public champion of good governance is giving kudos to Stolte for breaking good governance rules in place. Maybe Marsden will make a good politician. She already has the unashamed flip flop down pat.

    Mr. Barnett, Councilor Stolte’s position is not being questioned. It’s how she went about trying to move her agenda forward. She broke rules in that effort. You are confusing two things.

    John, you are correct about the requirement for the report to be made public. There is no set timeframe for that to happen. The Commissioner’s preference was to have it made public at tge time Council would consider it, the 19th.

    • Bruce you don’t know that Stolte broke the rules and neither do we. We do know that rules have been repeatedly broken by this Council and the previous one, hence the Chasm of Accountability. We also know the 2014 Integrity complaint saw the Council conceal the full story in terms of what the investigation report actually said and got away with it.Those who have tried to expose what is going on at City Hall that should not be in terms of rules, including their own Procedural Bylaws have faced improper sanctions that have made it impossible to successfully run for office. The Kudos are for bringing the discussion into the public eye and giving folks like you and us the opportunity to insist the lsctern is opened up for this matter.

      • Jim Thomson

        Anne and Dave.
        I guess you haven’t read the Integrity Commissioner’s Report.
        Items 45 and 57 conclude that she broke the rules.
        They don’t say say she “potentially crossed the line”
        In fact in item 71 the report makes it clear “she bears responsibility for the two breaches of Rule No. 14 which did occur.”

        • In our experience in similar cases this type of report is not the last word. Its ony when all the facts are made public and all the facts properly considered that the truth is known. In a previous Burlington Integrity Commisson investigation it was very clear that the particular complaint had occurred in terms of non-compliance with the Procedural By-laws but the Commissioner`s position was not the last word and this matter was never addressed by the City as it should have been. The City should forward the report to a Special Council meeting and give the opportunity to the public to properly cosider the facts and make delegations from the lectern on this very important issue, particularly in an election year.

          • Bruce Leigh

            Marsden, the City has an independent Integrity Commissioner for a reason. That reason is to conduct investigations in an unbiased and independent manner, to discover the facts and provide conclusions and recommendations to Council. In this instance the Commissioner has determined that Councilor Stolte breached the City’s confidentiality rules on two occasions. The Commissioner has made recommendations to the City as to what sanction Stolte should face and what changes the City should make to its protocols and procedures to be employed if and when Council seeks to go into closed session.

            Stolte’s position, her aim, her goal may be laudable, but she went about it the wrong way. Surely you, Marsden, as the champion of rules following, cannot condone Stolte breaking confidentiality rules, no matter her good intentions..

            Marsden, are you saying, if you were to be elected mayor (GHU) in a similar situation you might not accept the independent Integrity Commissioner’s report and findings and make your own decision based upon emotion rather than fact.

            BTW Council has the ability to accept or reject any one of The Commissioner’s recommendations. That though is unlikely, except it might determine not sanction Stolte financially, but reprimand her instead so as to start the healing

  • Denise W.

    I like her even more. In truth, I have only heard good things from people who have called upon her and hope this will not leave her feeling discouraged.


    Don’t Nisan and Galbraith have anything better to do? This manufactured crisis is nonsense.

  • john

    I understand it was when Councillor Stolte was given to understand that this report would be discussed, once again in a ‘closed meeting’, that she felt it necessary to issue a statement to the residents. The Municipal Act (223.6(3) clearly states that reports received from the commissioner by the municipality or board as the case maybe, are available to the public.

  • Jim Barnett

    Councillor Sholte has the correct position. The Council is much too secretive and has used Covid to help quash the openness that is required for a democracy. Nisan and Galbraith going to the Integrity Commission before the situation was common knowledge to the citizens just show how much they believe in secrecy over transparency. Shame on them.

  • Kudo’s to Councillor Stolte for her stand and her position that five days pay is worth the sacrifice for a mature conversation on closed meetings. No complaint from Nisan and Galbraith that Council and, therefore, public mail concerning the Official Plan not meeting Region requirements back in December 2018 was posted on the Mayor’s Social Media page but never forwarded by her via Planning and Development Committee to Council. Electing those who will give 100% commitment to attending to the Burlington Chasm of Accountability that presently prevails must surely be the goal of everyone in Burlington who casts a municipal vote. A 2022 lack of informed votes would be even more disastrous than what we have now

  • Jim Thomson

    The city isn’t monitoring the councillors emails. How the other councillors got the email was clearly stated in the Integrity Commission Report.

    “• Her email, which was copied to all of Council, merely notified the constituent of the subject-matter so that the constituent could delegate the Committee on the matter”

    Nothing despicable going on here.

  • Penny Hersh

    The report from the Integrity Commission goes into great length concerning the lack of transparency on the part of the city when indicating information around” closed session”included in meeting agenda.

    This lack of transparency is not a surprise to any of the residents that follow the council meetings. How many times have I heard from other residents “another closed meeting what are we not being told about yet again”.

    I agree with Council Stolte when she says

    “Instead of choosing to work with me and collaborate on resolving this critical issue Councillors Nisan and Galbraith chose instead to issue four complaints against me with the Integrity Commissioner in January of 2022. Ironically, the complaint itself was made secret, and I was forbidden from informing the public.”

    Why would the complaint be made “secret”. Did these 2 councillors hope that their participation would not be exposed? Did the other members of council know about this in January?

    According to the Integrity Commission Report one of the issues was the fact that Councillor Stolte had emailed a resident concerning a matter before the Adjustment Committee.

    How did these 2 councillors know that Councillor Stolte had emailed a resident in her ward regarding a matter before the Committee of Adjustment? Is the city monitoring all councillors emails?

    I applaud Councillor Stolte for coming forward. The residents in her ward are lucky to have a councillor who believes strongly in transparency and put her career in jeopardy to make certain she represented their best interests and also the interests of residents living in other wards.

    Does the Integrity Commission have the ability to sanction a city who does not follow the rules of transparency, as outlined in their report, when providing information on what is being discussed in closed sessions on their meeting agendas?