Original Published on Jul 13, 2022 at 16:16
By Rocco Frangione, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
A Powassan town councillor has avoided any sanctions or penalties after the local town council defeated a resolution to accept an integrity commissioner finding that Debbie Piekarski violated the Municipality of Powassan Code of Conduct.
In his ruling filed March 17, integrity commissioner David King left it up to council to decide what kind of penalty Piekarski should face.
However, a resolution introduced by Coun. Markus Wand calling on council to accept King’s report and that Piekarski forward two months of her council salary to a local community organization was defeated in a 2-2 tie vote.
Council got to this final stage in a series of complex twists and turns over several months.
A recent move saw Wand try to introduce his motion at a June council meeting only to never see it debated because no one would second it.
At the July meeting Wand told his colleagues the matter needed to be discussed.
Following the failure at the June meeting to introduce the resolution, Wand said he had people asking him what had happened with the complaint lodged against Piekarski.
“Some people felt it was being swept under the rug,” Wand said.
“The optics of this aren’t good. When things don’t get discussed at the table whether they are good, bad or ugly, accountability goes out the window.”
Wand added if individual members of council can’t be held accountable to the code of conduct then “our ratepayers don’t have any trust that they have the right people at the (council) table.”
Wand said just because someone seconds a motion that doesn’t mean they are in favour of it – it simply allows for the matter to be properly debated.
That set the stage for Mayor Peter McIsaac to temporarily give up the mayor’s chair to Deputy Mayor Randy Hall so that McIsaac could second the resolution.
McIsaac agreed with Wand with how people were perceiving the integrity commission matter and how municipal staff were interpreting council’s reluctance to deal with it.
“I had a staff member tell me that we discipline staff but we protect our own (council members),” McIsaac said.
“That hit hard.”
Once the debate started, Piekarski weighed in on the matter last with her saying “I don’t think I did anything wrong” and then she lit into council.
“I’m disappointed with the way the council has handled this from the get go,” Piekarski said.
The Piekarski case involves comments she made at a Dec. 7 council meeting involving arena operations where she wanted council to review ice rentals to ensure the facilities are being rented out properly by staff.
Her comments resulted in local businessman Evan Hughes lodging an integrity commission complaint because he claimed Piekarski was suggesting arena staff were renting ice time at preferential rates to some users and not others depending on who you were.
After King investigated the matter he found that without any factual information, Piekarski unnecessarily cast aspersions on arena operations staff and also did not enhance public confidence in how Powassan’s arenas are being managed.
King’s investigation of Piekarski was one of two.
He also investigated Deputy Mayor Randy Hall’s behaviour in a separate complaint Hughes filed which again centred on arena operations at the same Dec. 7 council meeting.
What King found was that Hall did not exercise reasonable care when raising arena matters and as a result his comments did not enhance public confidence in Powassan’s local government.
But King added Hall did not engage in an abuse of power.
King further concluded Hall did not try to intimidate anyone nor did he harass, verbally abuse or treat anyone adversely.
However, in an effort to put his case to rest, Hall suggested, and council accepted, his recommendation at an April council meeting that he forward two months of his council salary ($1,000) to the Trout Creek Children’s Booster Club.
But at the June council meeting Piekarski said having Hall financially pay for his comments was wrong.
Piekarski said it was wrong for council to pass the April resolution because Hall “said something that annoyed someone or ticked someone off.”
“But that’s what we did with Coun. Hall,” Piekarski said.
“To make it go away, give us $1,000 and it’s done. I can’t be part of that.”
Piekarski added that in passing the resolution that penalized Hall, council “failed the community and each other.”
Several months ago Piekarski hired a lawyer to help refute the integrity commissioner’s findings against her and in a four-page letter H.G. Elston detailed three points why council should not accept the integrity commissioner’s report.
Piekarski asked her council colleagues if anyone could tell her what those three points were.
When no one answered her challenge, Piekarski said “you’re going to lay judgment tonight and you haven’t even looked at the other side.”
Piekarski then read Elston’s full letter which stated the integrity commissioner’s report contained several legal errors and that the Code of Conduct had been misapplied.
Piekarski stood by her position and said “I did nothing wrong and I don’t see how you can find me having contravened the code of conduct.”
In response to how the council treated Hall at the April meeting, McIsaac said “no one wanted to drop the hammer on anyone” adding it’s what Hall wanted.
McIsaac then reminded council that at the same April council meeting he told Hall that the $1,000 recommended as a penalty was “too much.”
When it came time to vote, Wand and McIsaac chose to accept the integrity commissioner’s report and that Piekarski pay $1,000 to a local group but Hall and Coun. Dave Britton voted against it.
Piekarski abstained from the vote creating the tie situation.
Without a majority, the resolution was defeated and Piekarski was not assigned any penalty.
And because accepting the integrity commissioner’s report was included in the same resolution, once the motion failed, it automatically meant council did not accept the report.
This item reprinted with permission from The Nugget, North Bay, Ontario