Integrity commissioner: Robertson contravened code of conduct

Day one of the 2018 budget deliberations at the Chatham-Kent Civic Centre council chambers. January 30, 2018. (Photo by Sarah Cowan Blackburn News Chatham-Kent).

A former Chatham-Kent councillor is maintaining his innocence in response to a report from the municipality’s integrity commissioner that concludes he did contravene council’s code of conduct.

In his final report, set to be formally presented to Chatham-Kent council on Monday, commissioner Paul Watson said his months-long investigation found that former Ward 6 councillor Derek Robertson violated Section 14 of the code, which deals with “Conduct Respecting Staff”.

Specifically, Watson’s report states that “the actions of the councillor [Robertson] as they relate to the (chief building official) were not ‘respectful of the role of staff to provide advice based on political neutrality and objectivity without undue influence from any individual member or faction of council.'”

Watson’s conclusions follow a complaint that was filed with the integrity commissioner’s office by former CK Mayor Randy Hope in November 2018. The complaint claimed that Robertson misused his authority as a councillor when he was acting as an advocate for a local business owner, Brent DeNure, who was involved in a lengthy dispute with the municipality’s building department regarding a building permit application.

The report’s findings go on to say that “the councillor’s actions did not ‘show respect for the professional capacities of staff’… in this case with respect to the (chief building officer) and to a lesser extent the municipal lawyer.”

One of the key points that led Watson to his conclusions includes “implicit threats to take action that could lead to the termination of the (chief building official)” that Robertson allegedly presented to Chatham-Kent’s General Manager who later shared those comments with the chief building official. Another determining factor is Watson’s finding that the chief building official “had a genuine belief that his employment with the municipality was at risk and may still be at risk” as a result of “demands and opinions that the councillor put to or conveyed to the general manager” along with “inquiries into the chief building officer’s personnel records”.

Watson’s investigation also looked into whether Robertson’s actions contravened Section 10 of the code of conduct, which deals with “improper use of influence”.

On that point, Watson found that Robertson’s actions went “well beyond the norm”, but he couldn’t find strong enough evidence to suggest that Robertson is a “friend, or associate…, business or otherwise” of the property owner. As a result, he was unable to determine that Robertson “used his status as a member of council to improperly influence the decision of another person (senior municipal staff including but not limited to the CAO) ‘to the private advantage of… friends, or associates, business or otherwise.'”

Robertson previously addressed a preliminary report from the integrity commissioner that shared many of the same findings as the final document, calling for Watson to recuse himself from the investigation. At that time, Robertson said he was “absolutely disgusted” with the way the investigation was carried out, calling the complaint an act of political retribution that was meant to smear his name.

“I told you so,” Robertson told Blackburn News Friday morning in response to Watson’s final report. “We said this would be the case when the ‘lack of integrity’ commissioner ran a process that was flawed from beginning to end… he had already drawn his conclusions.”

In response to the allegation that he didn’t show the proper respect to municipal staff members, Robertson maintains that he was just doing his job as a municipal councillor when he was advocating on behalf of Denure and that he executed his duty appropriately, going through the proper channels, which involved minimal contact with the building department.

“As far as I’m concerned, I did nothing wrong, I would continue to execute the office in the same way I always had if I was there,” said Robertson. “I executed the duty of my office properly and in a manner that was respectful to the executive management team… I think this whole thing is a smelly mess from beginning to end.”

When it comes to formal sanctions as a result of his findings, Watson noted two possibilities but added that he doesn’t recommend either of them because Robertson is no longer a municipal councillor.

“As [Robertson] is no longer a member of council, the first sanction, being suspension of a member’s pay is not available,” states the report, adding “in my opinion, the second sanction, being a reprimand of a person who is no longer a member of council, would serve no purpose.”

Watson’s final comments note that the report will still become part of the public record and he is encouraging council members to see the report as a reminder that the code of conduct “provides strict guidelines when it comes to members of council’s ‘conduct respecting staff’ and ‘use of [his or her] influence’ in cases such as this when interacting with staff.”

Watson will be available to answer questions from council┬ámembers when he presents his report Monday evening. You can read a copy of Watson’s report by clicking here.