West Nipissing Integrity Commissioner Paul Cassan dropped into the last council meeting via Zoom to address a complaint against council. This is the first complaint against this current council, and it came from a resident – who was not named – upset that a councillor signed a petition to reinstate Councillor Anne Tessier to the Au Chateau senior’s home board of directors.

On May 2, the complaint came in, Cassan said, detailing that Councillor Fernand Pellerin signed the petition, “which was against a decision that was made by council.” The petition wanted to have Tessier put back on the board. She was removed by a vote of council on April 4 after a comment from Tessier on social media was deemed “critical of the management of the facility.”

See:West Nipissing councillor removed from Au Chateau board

Council’s decision to alter the board was not in question by the complaint, noted Cassan. Councillors Pellerin and Tessier voted against the resolution, but it passed Cassan said, “and that became the decision of council.”

For a councillor to go against this decision by signing a petition, violated the code of conduct, Cassan explained. In part, the language of the petition “was disrespectful of council and council’s decision.”

However, Cassan recommended there be no reprimands or penalty made of Pellerin. He discussed the complaint with the councillor, “who was very cooperative.” Cassan also noted Pellerin is a first-term councillor, and he signed the petition at a local business, “and councillor Tessier did not ask councillor Pellerin to sign the petition,” nor was she involved in the petition at all.

“This decision was early in the term and this petition signing occurred before I attended council to do some training with council.”  

See: Will petition put Tessier back on Au Chateau board?

Pellerin noted “it was a good discussion with Mr. Cassan, it was pleasant. I did disagree with some points but we can agree to disagree.”

The Integrity Commissioner also noted that a councillor could put forward a motion to reconsider a decision of council. That would have been the “proper way to resolve that, to attempt to reconsider the decision, but that was not done.”

Cassan reminded councillors they could always reach out to him before a similar incident takes place to refresh themselves on their “ethical obligations” as a councillor. Essentially, “councillors are supposed to debate issues in open council.”

Council’s Code of Conduct demands that once a council decision has been made, “all members of council have an obligation to support that decision,” Cassan said.

Whether or not you agreed with that decision or not, “as a member of council, once that decision is made you have an obligation to support and put forward that position.”

Cassan recommended he return to council to further educate councillors on their roles and responsibilities. He noted that councillors are voted into “a position of power” and “frankly, that position involves sacrifice.”

“And what I mean by that is that certain rights that members of the public would have with respect to freedom of speech and freedom of opinion are in fact given up by members of council when they assume the role as a councillor.”

It is the councillor’s responsibility to “follow the policies and the laws of the municipality.”  If councillors continue to subvert the code, “my recommendation will be for a much more serious penalty.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

By David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Jul 14, 2023 at 13:02

This item reprinted with permission from   BayToday.ca   North Bay, Ontario
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