BROCKTON – The main item on the agenda for the June 18 meeting of Brockton council was the report by integrity commissioners Jeffrey Abrams and Janice Atwood of the firm Principles Integrity, on Deputy Mayor James Lang. 

Council voted to accept the report, and to accept the recommendation in the report, with a minor amendment – as per the report, Lang’s ban from the Walkerton Community Centre will be partly lifted at the start of 2025, with the exception that he may, starting immediately, attend to take his young children to recreational activities.

The report was followed by council’s acceptance of Lang’s letter of resignation.

Lang, who arrived at the meeting in time to hear the report, initially sat in the council chamber’s gallery before moving to the podium to address council and finally taking his seat at the council table to make his final comments.

Mayor Chris Peabody had sought legal input (from Aird & Berlis) prior to the meeting, and was advised Lang remained deputy mayor until council accepted his written resignation. Peabody told council he’d been instructed that the hearing must go ahead, and that Lang’s questions were to be limited to the recommended ban from the arena. The mayor issued a number of reminders of that limitation during the course of the meeting.

Atwood presented the report remotely; Abrams was not present. She told council, “This closes the loop on an incident that occurred back in December” and resulted in a complaint of harassment against the deputy mayor. 

The complete report is included in the meeting’s agenda on the municipal website. Atwood did not repeat it word for word; her focus during her presentation was the investigation conducted by a third-party investigator, and the subsequent one-year ban from the Walkerton Community Centre.

Abrams and Atwood determined that the behaviour reported on, had not only met the criteria for harassment, but had contravened the council’s code of conduct. “We reviewed the findings through the lens of the council code of conduct,” she said.

Atwood went on to say that report included the recommendation the one-year ban imposed in March 2023 be partially lifted as of Jan. 1, 2025, although Lang had “urged us to lift the ban by the start of the hockey season.”

She further stated that although Lang had tendered his resignation, he was deputy mayor when the incident occurred and the subsequent investigation and report were completed; “council should act on our report.” She made it clear that it was up to council to determine what its actions would be.

Coun. Tim Elphick thanked Atwood for the report and asked for an explanation about “how the information was gathered.”

Atwood noted some of the information is confidential. However, she said she and Abrams were satisfied a “full and fair” investigation by the third party took place, and “we were able to rely on the findings.”

Coun. Kym Hutcheon stated, “The report made a lot of things very clear to the public.”

Lang opted to speak at that point “to address the sanction (ban from the arena), but instead questioned Abrams’ absence, and why Atwood had stated he “had requested no further conversation on this, when I did.” He went on to say to Atwood, “You never gave me that opportunity.”

Lang noted this is the third time he has addressed council on this matter. He went on to say he does not disagree with the finding. He added, “I’ve been dragged through the dirt in this community since December.”

Atwood explained that they had released the report of their findings to Lang some time ago, and had asked him to submit his written comments “before we would have a conversation.”

Lang’s discussion with Atwood became heated at that point, and Peabody stepped in with a reminder on the limited scope for discussion.

Lang continued on the same tack, saying he struggled with the integrity commissioner process, and stated he’d never “had a chance for a one-on-one with our council.” He said they were “provided with a report by our CAO;” he described that report as “one sided.”

He also characterized the integrity commissioner’s report as “like it was written by a Grade 5 teacher … maybe James should spend some time in the penalty box!”

Then Lang said he “wanted to talk to council.” Speaking directly to “Carl (Kuhnke), Mitch (Clark), Tim (Elphick) and Greg (McLean) … the things that were presented to you … what were said … are false.”

He said he cares about the community and recreation. “All I want is what’s best for Brockton and … Walkerton.”

Again referencing the sanction, he continued, “You’ve proved your point. You never let me go to the last game of the Walkerton Capitals.”

He spoke of his plans to renovate the executive room (at the Walkerton arena), and having to register his children in a recreation program in another Brockton community.

Lang reiterated he’s “been dragged through the mud on this,” and said what he did “was wrong … what I said was wrong. I’ve admitted to that. I’m not a criminal.”

He denied that he’d kicked and punched doors, saying that was “all false.”

Peabody again stepped in.

Lang made an impassioned plea that the ban be reconsidered, and lifted in time for the hockey season – i.e., the beginning of September. “I need to be at the arena,” he said, and apologized to council “for having to go through this process. I ask to go back in the arena.”

He spoke of his work with the Junior C Capitals and his need to be back at the arena to support that team.

The motion was read, to accept the report, and the recommended penalty (Jan. 1, 2025).

Elphick asked if Atwood considered Lang’s resignation as mitigation, and she said she did not.

Clerk Fiona Hamilton commented in response to a question by McLean that council had received “the external investigation report, and some advice on what might be an appropriate remedy … under the Occupational Health and Safety Act … that all remains the case. … The (integrity commissioner’s) report adds to that … another lens has been applied, and that other lens views it through the code of conduct.”

She went on to say there have been no additional facts added (in the report).

Kuhnke proposed an amendment to the motion, that Lang be allowed to take his young children to recreational activities at the arena.

Clark seconded the motion, saying, “I don’t think we should be punishing his children in this.”

Council voted in favour of the amendment, to be effective as of the date of the meeting (June 18).

Council also voted in favour of the nine-month sanction.

Elphick commented the 12-month penalty “was high,” while the nine-month penalty was more in line. 

The vote in favour of accepting the report, with the amendment, was unanimous.

Council subsequently voted to accept Lang’s letter of resignation that had been received on June 14 and filed with the clerk, in accordance with the Ontario Municipal Act.

Council subsequently declared the office of deputy mayor of the municipality to be vacant, and approved appointing a new deputy mayor from among existing members of council. (The option would have been to hold a byelection.) The appointment must take place within 60 days. 

Once the new deputy mayor is appointed, council will undertake the second step in the two-step process, filling the vacant seat on council.

By Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 03, 2024 at 09:07

This item reprinted with permission from   The Herald-Times   Walkerton, Ontario
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