Update: Oct 8th 2020
This article (https://www.midlandtoday.ca/local-news/midland-councillor-off-the-hook-after-peers-reject-integrity-commissioners-findings-2776503) covers the council deliberations about this issue perfectly. Sadly I know we will see more of these kinds of complaints. The tool, unless we change the parameters by which the Integrity Commissioner works to apply the Code of Conduct to us, will continue to be weaponized to further personal grudges. In the lull between now and the inevitable next complaint, we can focus once again on the important work before us and try to work in harmony.
Again, the Integrity Commissioners did their jobs and applied the Code of Conduct by the parameters we set for them. I have respect for them and the job they do for us and other Councils. In this case, I and most of my peers simply disagreed with their findings. I look forward to continuing to work with them as we navigate these troubling times.
I have been fielding emails, private messages and calls today stemming from the Integrity Commissioner’s report on this Wednesday’s Council agenda – finding my peer Councillor Cody Oschefski guilty of breaching the spirit of the rules – while not actually breaking any rules or any Provincial statute or regulation.
This is troubling to me. I am no stranger to investigations, collecting and interpreting evidence, charging people whom I believe committed the offences for which I had supporting evidence and playing a role in the prosecution through to conviction – or non conviction. I don’t do that job any more but I did for nearly a quarter century. I respect the job that our integrity commissioners do for us and the part that they play in holding us accountable to the Code of Conduct (a Midland Council creation but mandated by the Province) and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (a Provincial statute primarily but not exclusively for abuses that result in pecuniary gain).
I think what is becoming apparent is that some people are weaponizing the Code of Conduct to exact revenge or advance personal grievances against Councillors knowing that it is impossible to be exemplary 100% of the time.
I believe that interpreting the code of conduct and finding offences in the “spirit” of the rules is far too ambiguous and ironically may go against the “spirit” of why the rules were put into place to begin with.
But… to the integrity commissioner’s defence, those are the loose parameters that we’ve given them to work with. We should look at tightening that up a bit considering our taxpayers get the bill for each and every complaint – both with and without merit.
You, the public only get to see the outcomes of investigations where there has been a finding of guilt/breach. You don’t see the ones that are not advanced to Council either because they lacked merit or were not within the jurisdiction of the integrity commissioners. We pay for the investigations regardless.
We are held to a higher standard (says so in the Code of Conduct) but being honest with ourselves, it is aspirational and virtually unachievable 100% of the time. We are human beings and no better than the people who elected us. The problem with the higher moral standard is that we are all doomed to come into conflict with that standard at some point. The only difference is some of us will have someone complain about our missteps and some of us won’t.
To be clear, this code of conduct is new, and came before this council and I voted to enact it, and to be held to it (as hard as that can be sometimes) – and I have been last December for a vulgar comment in a leaked personal email that was also published online. Guilty as charged and I don’t make any excuses for it. I also committed to not repeating it and have stood by that commitment.
That being said, if you put us on a pillar you are sure to be disappointed. You only have to look to the big leagues like the Premier or the Prime Minister (or their ministers) to see how imperfect we are and incredulously, how findings of or admissions of breaches of their own rules seem to have no consequences at those upper levels of government. If you want to be honest, look in the mirror and ask yourself if you could live up to such standards 100% of the time.
I am not making excuses for Cody, but I can empathize with the application of the Code of Conduct as a weapon by people who are motivated to call out the missteps of others and object to a tool that does not rely on the law, does not require proof beyond reasonable doubt and denies us the common law right to face one’s accuser nor have precedent applied to either defence or sanction/sentence.
The subjectivity of the Code of Conduct makes it the perfect weapon and it will continue to be wielded that way. The report is well written, and lays out the case perfectly. The aggravating factor that it involves the global Pandemic (a very real and deadly threat) adds an emotional component to this that heightens people’s reactions to the event. These are, as we keep hearing, unprecedented times, and people will make mistakes and use poor judgement. This pandemic has brought out the best in some and the worst in others. Let’s keep our perspective here.
This could just have easily been about repeatedly having fires without a permit and the report’s findings and results could be the same. That is the only point I am trying to make here. Imagine that instead of speed limit signs, they simply say “don’t go too fast” and leave that subjective interpretation up to the police. Ambiguity has no place in the law and where it is found, it favours the accused.
Please tune into the Council meeting on Wednesday evening to hear the discussion that surrounds this matter and what is ultimately decided in relation to Councillor Cody Oschefski’s report.
Even the most historically perfect being to walk among us, that Christians believe to be the son of God, was strung up and crucified for failing to live up to the standards of the people and the government of the day. To loosely quote His words “Let he/she without sin, cast the first stone”.