Technical problems with video-conferencing prevented Norfolk council from having the discussion it wanted April 28 about the year-end report from county integrity commissioner John Mascarin.
On May 19, council asked CAO Jason Burgess to provide an analysis of the 11-page document at an upcoming meeting.
“I will probably use some outside advice on that,” Burgess said.
Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele asked for the report.
“There were some sections that suggested council had behaved in some untoward fashion,” Masschaele said. “It was so vague, but at the same time so accusatory that I thought I’d like a little more clarity about what some of those sections were referring to.”
In his review, Mascarin, a Toronto lawyer, cited seven complaints against Norfolk council members in 2019, five of which were dismissed. The two he accepted concern Mayor Kristal Chopp and the events of Jan. 8 of last year.
At that meeting, Chopp tore a planner’s report in half while the writer was at the podium. Chopp upbraided the planner for presenting a report that deviated from council guidance. The issue was the advisability of permitting laying hens in backyard coops within the urban zone.
In this instance, Mascarin ruled that Chopp violated Norfolk’s code of conduct among other policies. Mascarin recommended the mayor apologize by a May 31 deadline.
Mascarin deemed the apology Chopp posted on Facebook several minutes before the deadline as inadequate. He docked Chopp two weeks’ pay and demanded the mayor reformulate her mea culpa. Council subsequently accepted the apology posed on social media and re-imbursed Chopp for lost wages.
In his year-end report, Mascarin expresses disappointment with council’s response and the fact Chopp was re-imbursed. He also expressed disappointment that council subsequently modified his terms-of-reference so that council had final say over which sanctions would be imposed in a given situation.
“To anyone who attended or watched the council meeting, it was obvious that a concentrated campaign had been orchestrated to pressure council to close the book on the issue,” Mascarin writes. “In other words, ethics be damned.”
At the end of his report, Mascarin recommends that council restore his authority to impose sanctions on errant council members.
Charlotteville Coun. Chris Van Paassen cast the lone vote against further action on Mascarin’s review.
Van Paassen challenged Mascarin’s recollection of the poultry episode, suggested Mascarin is confused about his role and responsibilities, and said Norfolk council and staff have bigger issues to worry about than an integrity commissioner who wants to re-fight last year’s battles.
“He told council to reprimand the mayor,” Van Paassen said. “Council did reprimand the mayor. Council asked the mayor to apologize. Council accepted that apology. Then the integrity commissioner comes back with a supplementary report because he didn’t like the way the mayor apologized for an apology he never asked for because he delegated the authority to ask for penalties, which he is not allowed to do by law.
“If these are the kind of recommendations he wants to give out — that he can break the law but no one else can — I don’t know why we should be following or worried about these kind of recommendations.”
For his part, Mascarin doesn’t accept Van Paassen’s version of what happened. Mascarin noted that – before council voted to re-imburse Chopp for lost wages – it passed a resolution stating that council and the integrity commissioner were to take “no further action” on the chicken file.
“It appears Coun. Van Paassen clearly has a different recollection of the matter than I do,” Mascarin said in an email on May 22.
“He appears to be under the impression that an actual apology was proffered — something that, in fact, never occurred either in the council meeting May 7, 2019, or subsequently in a social media statement.
“If anyone ‘broke the law,’ it was council who decided `That no further action be taken,’ only to walk it back at the next meeting and decide to not follow its own resolution.”
Chopp welcomes an examination of Mascarin’s review.
“Wouldn’t bother me in the least,” the mayor said.