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'Never seen that happen before': No punishment for mayor as council rejects integrity commissioner’s report

Integrity Commissioner (IC) Laura Dean was “shocked” and “disappointed” at Central Elgin council’s decision to reject her report.

“I have to say it’s highly unusual, I’ve never seen that happen before,” Dean said to council Monday night.

In a recorded vote of 4-2 (with Sloan not voting), Municipality of Central Elgin (MCE) councillors Norm Watson, Michelle Graham, David Connors, and Deputy Mayor Todd Noble decided not to accept the report which found that Mayor Andrew Sloan violated the code of conduct on three separate occasions. He was found to have not violated the code on many other allegations.

The two votes in favour of accepting the report were Morgaine Halpin and David Baughman.

“The events of last night with the integrity commissioner’s report caught me totally off guard,” said Baughman.

Tuesday, CTV News attempted to speak to the four councillors who voted to reject the report.

Deputy Mayor Todd Noble hung up the phone when CTV News called.

An undated image of Central Elgin Integrity Commissioner Laura Dean. (Source: Aird & Berlis LLP)

Graham and Connors issued a joint written statement, and Watson was the only one to answer questions about his voting decision.

“I wanted to show that I support my mayor,” said Watson. “He’s done a lot of great things in getting a zero per cent tax increase and his dealings with Volkswagen that sounds very positive going forward. I think this integrity commissioner trying to nitpick on some procedural technicalities and that’s not fair to him.”

The joint statement from Graham and Connors called out the IC for not contacting all identified witnesses and called that a “significant oversight.”

“The council of MCE made unanimous decisions regarding the national anthem, the hiring of the consultant, and the NDA,” their statement said.

It continued, “The Mayor individually discussed the NDA with each councillor, followed by unanimous approval, and this should not be disregarded. This was a collective decision by council on a time sensitive matter. The hiring of the consultant was approved by all of council as was the institution of the national anthem. The CAO initially stated, while in the company of other councillors, that the mayor had only to ask him for the national anthem to be played. When the CAO later changed his opinion on the procedure, the mayor brought the matter to council and it was approved.”

Central Elgin Councillor Norman Watson seen on Sept 12, 2023. (Brent Lale/CTV News London)

Dean told CTV News Tuesday the report speaks for itself, and she was surprised council decided to not even deal with the report, which found contraventions on the part of the mayor.

“There is a statutory framework that's set out in the municipal act and accountability framework, and that's to provide accountability and transparency,” said Dean. “When we see councils making decisions, such as the one they made last night to ignore the reports of an independent statutory officer, it does raise some concern that there is not proper respect for this framework.”

Mayor Sloan was found to have violated the code when he directed staff to make decisions with the proper authority, and when he executed a non-disclosure agreement without authorization from council.

“This is the kind of strong-mayor system that is being implemented in now 49 municipalities across the province,” said Joseph Lyons, a political science professor at Western University. “This is the kind of thing that is going to be happening more where you have the mayor directing staff, and that’s the kind of dynamic some observers are worried about.”

CTV spoke to Central Elgin Chief Administrative Officer Robin Greenall to ask if she could reveal the cost of the IC report. CTV News was told it would not be released at this time, but it could be upwards of $80 thousand when completed.

“I pay a lot of taxes and I'd like to see the money get used better than thrown down the drain and ignored,” said Robert Allen, a Central Elgin resident.

“Transparency and accountability, that's what I voted my councillor for and I don't see that happening,” said resident Leigh Mauer.

Another resident in Belmont told CTV News off camera that the optics look bad, even referencing the infamous (Joe) Fontana 8 in London. They said while watching the meetings, there appears to be a voting block that can do what they want with no repercussions.

So what does that mean going forward?

"I'd hate to say it’s carte blanche because that paints a really bad picture for Central Elgin,’ said Baughman. “But I would say that we do have rules to abide and I don't think the respect that is due was given here."

Meanwhile, Watson would like to see council become more of a cohesive unit, “If we can get this nitpicking to stop we can move forward, and we can save a lot more money because we will not have to pay an integrity commissioner and if we work together we’ll get a lot more done.” Top Stories

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