Norfolk mayor docked pay over 'non-apology'

Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp

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Norfolk’s integrity commissioner has docked Mayor Kristal Chopp 10 days’ pay as penalty for not properly apologizing for ripping up a staff report in public.

Earlier this year, Chopp expressed dissatisfaction with a report from the Norfolk planning department on the issue of backyard chickens in urban areas of the county.

As the mayor critiqued a report by principal planner Mat Vaughan she tore a copy of it in half at the council table in front of Vaughan, members of council, members of the public in the gallery, and in front of cameras live-streaming the meeting over the Internet and cable TV.

“It is impossible to conclude that Mayor Chopp’s failure to make a proper apology is anything other than a deliberate choice to contravene the will of council,” said integrity commissioner John Mascarin in a report included in the agenda for Norfolk county council’s June 11 meeting.

Mascarin was referencing a Facebook post made by Chopp just minutes before the May 31 deadline set by council to issue the apology.

“If my actions, of ripping up a piece of paper, ever made you feel like you weren’t a part of the biggest, most important, movement in the history of Norfolk County, please accept my deepest and sincerest apologies. You are critical in the work that is being done and vital to our success,” said the post.

“Yesterday, I received a two-page letter from our integrity commissioner in Toronto asking for evidence of my apology or another ‘report’ to council would be forthcoming. This is my evidence. Our resources here in Norfolk County are scarce. Please, Mr. Mascarin, Norfolk County residents deserve my full attention back on the job that I was elected to do.”

In his report, Mascarin cites Ontario’s Apology Act, 2009, which contains a definition of “apology.”

He said a “truthful, honest and sincere apology” typically contains seven core elements: recognition, remorse, responsibility, repentance, explanation, reparation, and reform.

“Regrettably, Mayor Chopp’s statement does not contain the majority of the foregoing elements, most particularly, a failure to acknowledge or recognize the harm her statements and actions have caused. Her statement plainly does not comply with council’s demand for a public apology for what she did at the meeting.”

Mascarin said the Facebook statement amounts to a “non-apology” in the same likeness of the “so-called apology” that was already rejected by council-in-committee on May 7.

In that first apology, Chopp said: “We have far bigger issues in Norfolk County than chickens to be dealing with. That said, to the taxpayers of Norfolk County, I sincerely apologize that my ripping of a piece of paper in my rough estimation cost us all somewhere between $15,000 and $20,000, if not more. Although we have an expensive, expansive report, I guess I still live back in an era where a simple, ‘Mayor Chopp, don’t rip the piece of paper again,’ would have sufficed.”

That “faux apology” wasn’t accepted by the integrity commissioner or council.

Masacrin said Chopp’s failure to issue a formal apology “undermines the authority of the county’s elected governing body, the integrity of the Code, and respect for and trust in the efficacy of the county’s ethical framework.

“It is clear that Mayor Chopp has no intention of complying with council’s requests to offer a proper apology and that any further demands for same will be met with the same defiance she has demonstrated to date.”

Mascarin said his original report took into consideration that Chopp is a first-time elected official and her contraventions of the code may be due, in part, to her inexperience. But, he said, in the seven months since she ripped up the paper and more than two months since she was first asked to apologize, there was ample opportunity for “reparation and remediation.”

“Mayor Chopp alone is responsible for this situation and for the costs attendant to the complaints investigation and reporting,” said Mascarin. “No amount of deflection or obfuscation can alter the fact that it was her behaviour that gave rise to the complaints and that it was her refusal to accede to council’s simple demand for a proper apology that resulted in these proceedings.”