The crass, vile, political chicanery at city hall needs close public scrutiny in the way they handle a Code of Conduct matter

By Pepper Parr

April 16th, 2022



While most of us enjoy the break from the day to day life we live, hoping that we are getting through the pandemic and that whatever the new normal is going to be that nice warm weather is included – there are civic issues that need close attention.

Earlier in the week the Integrity Commissioner released a report in which they stated that a city Councillor had breached the Council Code of Conduct and recommended that the Councillor be docked five days pay.

The report is lengthy. It sets out four items and decided that ward 4 Councillor Shawna Stolte had breached the Council Code of Conduct  on two of them.

Ward 1 Councillor Kelvin Galbraith

Ward 3 Councillor Rory Nisan

The Integrity Commissioner was responding to complaints filed by two other members of city council: Rory Nisan and Kelvin Galbraith.

Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is not a party to the complaint but is believed to have been very active in getting the complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.

Councillor Stolte does not deny doing what she is accused of doing. She published a statement the day the contents of the Integrity report were released saying that if her being docked five days’ pay was the price it took to get the issue of Closed sessions of Council on the table and part of a robust public discussion then so be it.

A robust public discussion is exactly what the city needs – there is no certainty that any such thing will take place.

The Mayor said on Thursday that she had yet to read the report and would do so on the weekend; Councillor Sharman said he too had yet to read the document.

Take those two statements with more than a grain of salt.

Councillors Nisan and Galbraith have not made themselves available for comment.

Councillors Kearns and Bentivegna have not made any comment.

Those close to what happens at city hall have known for some time how fractured this council has become. When Meed Ward was elected in 2018 the population was for the most part filled with hope that development would be reined in and towering residential buildings would be located away from the downtown core.

The Nautique condo development found a way to get around a transportation issue – shortly after shovels were in the ground and the crane was in place purchase agreements were pulled and higher prices put in place. It was the kind of development people feared would take place.

The developers wanted to build and sell condominiums close to the lake.

Five of the seven member council were new to municipal politics and have struggled to deal with the very significant issues.

Burlington is being forced by the provincial government to grow its population at a startling rate. The Burlington that many love as it is are having a difficult time accepting the construction of towers that rise 26 storeys across the street from a six storey city hall.

Some 40 development applications are before the Ontario Land Tribunal, a jurisdictional body where Burlington has not done very well.
The number of Closed sessions city council has held is the nub of the issue. Stolte is not the only member of Council who wants to see fewer

Closed sessions and only when they are absolutely necessary.
Burlington is the subject of an investigation by the provincial Investigator of Closed Meetings. There is no date for a report on that investigation.

In 2017 the Halton district School Board decided to close two of the city’s seven high schools. It was a divisive process. In the fullness of time the HDSB decided to declare the former Robert Bateman High school surplus – which meant it was able to sell the property.

Conceptually it is a great idea – winners everywhere – until Council decided to seal their lips and keep the public out of the picture.

There is a very tightly defined process for selling surplus school property. The city of Burlington turned out to be the only bidder for the property.

At the time Brock University was looking for a new home for its Faculty of Education. Suddenly there was a real synergy in play.

When matters of property are before city council they are usually discussed in a Closed session. A developer making an application to construct a large residential tower or a property that is going to have a hundred or some homes always involve zoning and Official Plan amendments. The city administration wants hold these discussions in private, as well they should. Thus the rationale for going into a Closed session.

The difference with the Bateman property is that all the players were public – none of them were asking for or seeking a zoning change or an amendment to the Official Plan for an organizational profit.

The interests of three public organizations (a school board, a university and a municipality) that serve the interest of the public (You and I) were being worked through.

To add to the discussions there was a very real concern about the amount of asbestos in the former Bateman high school, what the cost of its removal and who was going to pick up that cost.

The site is big, the Mayor wants it to be a public place, the school board wants to get rid of the property but rent back some of the space. Brock University wants to make the place home for the Faculty of Education. Councillor Stolte wants the public to know what all this is going to cost. .

Councillor Stolte felt that because these issues were important to the public at large the need for Closed Sessions was lessened and took the positioned that the greater good was more important. She never made any secret of her position.

The city’s legal department didn’t see it that way nor did the Mayor. Both wanted much more control over the issue

And so here we are in the midst of crass, vile, political chicanery.

It is time for the public to weigh in and let their member of Council know what they think and feel.

This is not something that should be allowed to slip by without a close public review.

Related news stories:

Integrity Commissioner’s report in full

Councillor Stolte Statement

The Closed Session issue has been around for a while

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9 comments to The crass, vile, political chicanery at city hall needs close public scrutiny in the way they handle a Code of Conduct matter

  • Sharon

    To start I don’t live in Ward 4.
    I have looked up city’s Councillor’s newsletters. Shawna Sloates’s is the only one that has meaningful information as to what is going on at City Hall. I live in Ward 3 Rory Nissan and his newsletter is barely a page of nothing.
    I thought everyone wanted transparency and honesty. Ward 4 has that in Shawna Sloate, is Ward 4 citizens going to fight for their Councillor? As mentioned before the lamb has been thrown in for slaughter.
    Nissan and Gailbraith should also learn to talk to the person in question first, not be schoolyard snitches. Meed Ward’s actions don’t surprise me at all. She’s a pro for throwing people under bus!

  • Bruce Leigh

    Hersh, it was entirely appropriate because that is the approved method to follow. It was also appropriate because Stolte broke the confidentiality rules. Why don’t you get that? I totally agree with Stolte’s aims and goals, but she went about it in the wrong way. SIMPLE AS THAT !

    If the investigation by the Provincial Investigator was prompted by the complaint, that is a good thing. It will likely result in better procedures and protocols surrounding closed meetings.

    “Pandora’s box has been opened”. You say that as if that in this instance is a negative. I thought you wanted transparency. Or do you want things hidden away in Pandora’s box? Make up you mind where you stand!

  • Bruce Leigh

    Gazette, what facts do you have to back up this statement? Probably none.

    “Mayor Marianne Meed Ward is not a party to the complaint but is believed to have been very active in getting the complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.”

    Believed by whom and with what reason?

    This statement in the Gazette article shows just how either naive or misinformed the Gazette is.

    “The difference with the Bateman property is that all the players were public – none of them were asking for or seeking a zoning change or an amendment to the Official Plan for an organizational profit.”

    That statement is true. BUT:-

    Each of the three bodies has a duty to put their own interests first and foremost. As vendor, purchaser, potential tenant each is looking for the best deal it can achieve at the expense of tge other party. Hence the City does not wish to show its hand to either the HDSB or to Brock. Holding the discussions in open session would show the City’s hand. All three parties, the City, HDSB, and Brock are on different sides in their negotiations in regard to the sale, and re-purposing of the school.

    I don’t understand why the Gazette and others don’t see that. Maybe the Gazette is exhibiting an amount of crassness and chicanery in misinforming its readers. There is absolutely no difference in how this property matter should be managed by the City as compared to those 40+ development applications before the OLT. You don’t let the other side know what your strategy or potential concessions maybe.

    Editor’s note: The Roland Rant should make the point you seem to be missing.

    • Bruce Leigh

      Editor, not at all. You and Tanner miss the point. Stolte was in the wrong. The two complainant councilors followed policy and procedures set down for them. Stolte’s aim is laudable. Her method wrong. Stolte could have followed the correct path and made a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner saying there was not enough justification for a closed session and that the public was not being availed of information it should have.

      Editor’s note: Bruce reminds of the person who stood at a usually busy intersection at 2:00 am in the morning waiting for the red light to turn green so he could cross. Stolte is well aware of what she has done and has said publicly she feels five days pay is worth the the price is that is what it takes to get the issue on the table.

      Bruce seems unable to understand the different political alignments that brought about the complaints. Perhaps he is part of the crew that supports what our Mayor is doing. At least Bruce is active and getting his opinion out there.

  • Nothing less than ability to delegate at the lectern or zoom on this one. Council can call a Special Meeting and give a chance for the public to get to know about it, digest it and see if they wish to address Council on it.

  • Denise W.

    Are there not clear rules regarding when closed sessions are used? Or just not adhered to? Anyway, a Thank You is in order to Councillor Stolte for taking this on. Alone no less.

  • Jim Thomson

    “Five of the seven member council were new to municipal politics and have struggled to deal with the very significant issues.”

    So new that you still can’t spell their names right?

    It’s Kelvin Galbraith.

    Editor’s note: You are correct – thanks for spotting my error

  • Penny Hersh

    Covid has prevented the public from being seated in the Council Chamber.

    However, residents from Ward 4 can organized a gathering of all city residents who support Councillor Stolte to meet in front of City Hall prior to the start of the council meeting on April 19th. ( Easily done on Facebook and Twitter).

    I would also suggest that a reporter from the Hamilton Spectator, and/or the Burlington Post as well as Cogeco be present to report on why 2 members of council felt it was appropriate to file this complaint to the Integrity Commission? Certainly this could have been handled by the Mayor and the City Manager.

    If residents don’t take a stand now – then when? I ask Is this not a case of “bullying” a councillor into silence and sending a message to the other councillors? The message being ” keep residents in the dark and then put forward a survey and call it engagement”.

    All those involved in deciding that this complaint was merited are now responsible for as stated in this article -“Burlington is the subject of an investigation by the provincial Investigator of Closed Meetings.”

    Pandora’s Box has been opened….and once again there should be consequences for actions taken. The residents of Burlington need to make certain this happens.

    We must remember that we elect councillors to represent us at Council. I think Councillor Stolte did just that. For the record I do not live in Ward 4.

    • Jim Thomson

      Council unanimously requested that the Closed Meeting Investigator review their procedures at the February 15 council meeting. The Closed Meeting Investigator is appointed by the city in the same manner as the Integrity Commissioner. It is not a provincial investigation.
      The report is due May 4 according to the minutes of the February 15 council meeting.