Springwater Township’s integrity commissioner has had enough of Coun. Phil Fisher’s behaviour.

In a report that will be delivered at Wednesday’s council meeting, integrity commissioner Robert Swayze warned Fisher “that if he continues to aggressively attack other members of council and staff, I will find a contravention of the council code of conduct and may recommend sanctions against him.”

Swayze laid out the consequences if Fisher’s behaviour does not change.

“I warn him that if he continues with his aggressive approach, I will find that it amounts to harassment of other members of council and/or staff, which is a code rule,” Swayze wrote. “I will recommend the imposition of sanctions, such as a reprimand and the suspension of his council salary, (up) to as much as 90 days.”

“I’ve had a chance to thoroughly review the comments from the integrity commissioner,” Fisher told BarrieToday in response to the report. “I find the report heavily flawed, however I think it’s important the public view the meeting on the 19th.”

Swayze’s report is a result of three formal complaints he received — one from Fisher against Mayor Jennifer Coughlin; a second from Coun. Brad Thompson against Fisher, and a third from Adrian Graham, chair of the Springwater Library Board, also against Fisher. 

Swayze decided to consider all three complaints together, against the objections of Fisher who argued the complaints were unrelated.

“I advised him that, in my opinion, they are related to a divided council mostly caused by his engagement in petty politics.” Swayze wrote in his decision.

“I told him that most of my 24 councils work together co-operatively on the business of the municipality, and I rarely hear from them,” Swayze added. 

According to the report, Fisher’s complaint against Coughlin related to an invitation she received from the engineering consultant firm engaged by the township, to a dinner sponsored by the consultant at the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) conference, held Jan. 21-23 in Toronto. It was directed at all members of council, but the mayor chose to invite only three members.

“I had two telephone interviews with the mayor and in the first one she gave me the impression that she felt that she had some discretion in whom she could invite,” Swayze wrote. “In the second, after some debate at a council meeting, she advised me that she knew that the invitation was directed at all of council.”

Swayze wrote that he has spoken with a representative of the consultant and was assured that any future invitations will be addressed directly to all members of council. 

The second complaint, made by Thompson against Fisher, was also related to ROMA.

At the Feb. 17 council meeting, Fisher was accused of publicly criticizing Thompson for attending the ROMA conference with his wife, going a day earlier, and using municipal dollars to pay for her stay. 

Fisher also accused Thompson of attending the aforementioned consultant-sponsored dinner and not telling him about it. 

Thompson denied attending a day earlier and advised that “not a penny of tax dollars was spent on” his wife. 

Thompson assumed Fisher’s accusations were based on assumptions and not fact. 

“I requested Coun. Fisher to tell me where his information came from, but he has not responded to the request,” Swayze wrote.

According to the report, Thompson was not at the council meeting to defend himself. 

The third complaint was made against Fisher by Adrian Graham, chair of the Springwater Library Board.

According to the complaint, Graham was concerned over public statements made by Fisher about replacing the library with a contract organization and a notice of motion he provided on Nov. 1, 2023, requesting a report from staff to advise on possible alternatives to maintaining a library board. 

He never formally brought the notice of motion to council, but library staff members were alarmed by the criticism and about their jobs. 

“I consulted with a lawyer colleague who gave the opinion to another municipality that such a proposal would be contrary to the Library Act and I am of the same opinion,” Swayze wrote.

The integrity commissioner decided that none of the complaints required an investigation “on the basis of no actual rule in the code (of conduct) having been contravened.”

“The complainants have all cited sections of the code, which are general principles contained in the code,” he wrote. “However, I repeat my conclusion mentioned above that Coun. Fisher is not working co-operatively with other members of council to the detriment of the function of council in considering business issues.”

By Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jun 15, 2024 at 15:05

This item reprinted with permission from   BarrieToday   Barrie, Ontario

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