Former councillor ‘disgusted’ with integrity commissioner investigation

Derek Robertson outside of Paul Watson's office in Chatham on March 18, 2019. (Photo by Allanah Wills)

A former Chatham-Kent councillor and his lawyer are both calling on Chatham-Kent’s integrity commissioner to recuse himself from an ongoing code of conduct investigation.

Following a meeting with Integrity Commissioner Paul Watson on Monday, former CK councillor Derek Robertson and his legal representative, Steve Pickard, said they are unhappy with the direction the investigation has taken.

Roberston was hit with the formal complaint from the integrity commissioner in November of 2018. The complaint alleged that Roberston had a personal friendship with a business owner who was looking to open up a business within Chatham-Kent. The business owner was met with pushback from the municipality’s chief building officer (CBO) when trying to secure a building permit.

The complaint claimed Robertson sought preferred treatment for the business owner and used his authority as a councillor to put pressure on the CBO to instate the business owner’s permit and that he interfered with the building code conduct.

However, when speaking to reporters on Monday, Robertson fiercely denied these accusations and said the person who filed the complaint only did so for political retribution and to smear Robertson’s name.

According to Roberston, he was just doing his job as a councillor by trying to help an entrepreneur get his business underway and that the two were nothing more than acquaintances. He said he executed his duty appropriately, went through proper channels and had minimal contact with the building department on the issue.

Roberston and Pickard issued a 35-page response to Watson’s complaint, calling many of the allegations “fictitious” and factually incorrect.

The pair also claimed that the 10-page draft complaint investigation report was drafted up without first interviewing Roberston, something they said should have never happened.

“In section 19 D of the code of conduct policy says that the integrity commissions shall at law, that means must, interview any relevant individuals at law, and it means all. Now I don’t know anyone that can make an argument, any kind of valid argument, that I’m not a relevant individual,” he said.

Roberston said he had to “beg” and request the municipality to get an interview with Watson in regards to the complaint. He added that Watson only agreed to interview him after he received pressure from the municipality’s legal team to do so.

“We offered at least four people for him to interview, he chose to interview none for his report,” said Robertson. “He only interviewed me after the report was well baked.”

Believing that Watson was acting on bias while conducting the investigation into the claims against Robertson, he requested that Watson remove himself from the investigation.

“I don’t trust the process. Once the process is broken you can’t go back and fix it. That’s why he needed to recuse himself and he failed to do so,” Robertson said.

However, after the two parties finally met on Monday, Roberston said Watson wouldn’t budge on that request.

“When it was highlighted to him today that he was out of governance with the process, he suggested to me that we have different opinions of the process,” explained Roberston.

Roberston said that the last four months have made him lose faith in the role of the integrity commissioner and that he’s “absolutely disgusted” by the process. He said, overall, he’s frustrated with how this has damaged the hopes of a would-be local business owner.

“That incompetence hurt a local entrepreneur for months and months and months and set back his business plans, which we all should have been excited about,” said Robertson.

At press time Watson was unavailable for an interview and a final report has not been filed through the municipal clerk.

Robertson said if the report is published as is and if Watson doesn’t rescue himself of the complaint, he will refer to his legal counsel for his next steps of action.