Paul Watson. (BlackburnNews.com file photo courtesy of Paul Watson)

Integrity commissioner hands in final report about former councillor

Following the release of a contentious integrity commissioner report, members of CK council are seeking more clarity on the municipal code of conduct going forward.

On Monday night, council voted in favour of receiving Integrity Commissioner Paul Watson’s final report regarding a complaint made against former councillor Derek Roberston. The report found that Robertson contravened the code of conduct by violating Section 14 of the code, which deals with “Conduct Respecting Staff.” The complaint was made by former CK Mayor Randy Hope who said Robertson misused his authority while on council to try to help a local business owner acquire a building permit.

Councillors did not have any further questions for Watson regarding the report itself but are seeking answers when it comes to the integrity commissioner and code of conduct they must adhere to. A motion was introduced by Councillor Doug Sulman and passed unanimously to have municipal administration conduct educational seminars for council on the code of conduct, the integrity commissioner and the delegated authority bylaw.

Watson’s preliminary report received attention after Robertson and his lawyer, Steve Pickard, made public claims that Watson was biased in his investigation and botched it. Robertson has fiercely maintained that he acted appropriately and did not breach the code of conduct while serving as a councillor. Prior to the report’s release, Robertson also called on Watson to recuse himself from the investigation based on his conduct.

Speaking for the first time publically about the investigation, Watson was adamant that he conducted the investigation diligently.

“My concern is that the indication that I didn’t follow the process properly, but I followed the process, very carefully, right to the letter as far as it’s set out in the code,” Watson said.

As the claims against Robertson became public, the spotlight was put on how the code of conduct investigations are conducted. On Monday night, several members of council recognized that the debacle took on a life of its own and should be used as a chance to learn more about the code of conduct.

“I don’t think it a secret that there were some comments in the media regarding the process that was followed through this integrity commissioner investigation,” said Councillor Brock McGregor. “I think it’s fair to say there was some controversy involved.”

Watson said he believes, however, that Robertson created the controversy himself.

“I wouldn’t have done anything differently. There shouldn’t have been any controversy, I think the controversy was just a tactic to direct attention away from the report,” said Watson.

Now that Sulman’s motion has passed, in the next few months councillors will receive educational sessions on the code of conduct and the role of the integrity commissioner, should they find themselves in a similar situation as Robertson. Mayor Darrin Canniff said he welcomes the idea of re-evaluating the code of conduct and making sure everyone around the horseshoe is more clear on the rules.

“We voted on more training on it so we understand it more. But certainly, there’s the A to Z of just going through and ensuring clarity,” said Canniff. “For instance, it’s not even in there about a person not being on council anymore. You’ve got to look at stuff like that. There’s a number of different things, I can’t speak specifically about them, but there’s a lot of things we need to clarify.”

Watson said he will work with council during the education meetings, including explaining some provincial changes to the code of conduct rules that took effect on March 1.