Integrity commissioner clears Mayor Williams of misconduct allegations

May 3, 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Mike Pickford

After a six-month investigation by Orangeville’s integrity commissioner, Mayor Jeremy Williams has been cleared of wrongdoing following complaints by a Town staff member regarding the mayor’s conduct in two separate incidents last year.

In a 46-page document submitted to Council, Guy Giorno found the mayor innocent in 11 different alleged Municipal Code of Conduct violations, while reserving judgment on a 12th complaint due to lack of evidence and inconsistent reports submitted by the affected parties.

The report brings an end to months of speculation over the investigation. It was first revealed last October that a Town staffer had complained about a member of Council, formally asking the integrity commissioner to investigate the member’s conduct. At the time, no details were given regarding the staff member’s identity, the council member’s identity or the issue at hand.

The Citizen can now confirm that the complaint was made by Town Clerk Susan Greatrix against Mayor Williams. Ms. Greatrix felt Mayor Williams’ behaviour on social media last summer, where she felt he disrespected and, to a point, bullied, or did nothing to prevent the bullying of a municipal bylaw officer at the height of the downtown piano debacle.

Last summer there was much controversy regarding The Altered Native’s placement of a piano on the sidewalk in front of the store. Owner Shayne MacDonald told the Citizen he had seen other municipalities embrace the idea of placing such instruments in the downtown area, believing they promote a culture of arts and entertainment in the community.

What Mr. MacDonald was not aware of at the time, was that by placing the piano outside without the Town’s permission he was in direct violation of at least one municipal bylaw. As a result, a local bylaw officer was directed to investigate, which was done on June 22. In a letter to Mr. MacDonald, the bylaw officer stated the piano must be removed immediately. Failure to remove the piano would result in a $5,000 fine.

The issue blew up on social media and Mayor Williams quickly got involved. He was upfront with his belief that having a piano in the downtown area was a great idea. In that initial post, he stated the bylaw department “did what they are paid to do”, while later saying he would bring the issue before Council to see if a resolution could be achieved.

The next day, June 23, the mayor directed his executive assistant to get in touch with Ms. Greatrix, who also serves as the Town’s director of bylaw enforcement. Mayor Williams asked that since the issue would be discussed at the June 26 Council meeting, whether the bylaw department could leave the issue alone pending Council direction.

One of the potential issues the Town had with the piano related to insurance and liability. Prior to the June 26 meeting, Ms. Greatrix worked directly with Mr. MacDonald to address several concerns, eventually proposing that staff take no action to remove the piano pending a final Council decision. The issue was to be discussed again at a July 17 meeting of Council.

At that meeting, two different motions – one to keep the piano, and one to remove it, both failed. Since there was no resolution, Ms. Greatrix felt the bylaw department had to again issue a removal notice, which was delivered on July 21. This is where issues started to arise.

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The mayor felt Council had been clear in its motion on June 26 that the piano was to stay and Town staff was to take no action until directed by Council, and believed staff had not followed Council’s direction by issuing a second removal notice. He made another Facebook post suggesting that and later sent an email to Ms. Greatrix, his executive assistant, two bylaw officers and two local residents, one of whom had started an online petition in support of the piano, condemning the bylaw department’s action.

In the email, Mr. Williams wrote, “As head of council I am asking that bylaw back off on this matter and that staff respect council’s decision already given unless and until council chooses to give direction to the contrary.”

Ms. Greatrix disagreed with the mayor’s opinion and sought legal counsel on the issue. Town lawyer John Hart submitted an opinion on July 25 agreeing with the clerk’s interpretation. He noted that since Mr. MacDonald had not submitted an indemnity agreement that would leave the owner on the hook for any costs or damages that may be incurred by injury because of the piano, the bylaw department was correct to issue a second removal notice.

The mayor again disagreed with this opinion and in the end Mr. MacDonald submitted the indemnity agreement and Council voted in favour of the piano remaining in its location on Broadway.

The issue was of great interest to residents online. It was discussed at length at various social media platforms, most notably Facebook. In some posts, the bylaw officer involved was heavily criticized. Ms. Greatrix was said to have been “appalled” by some of the comments and met with Mayor Williams on July 24 to discuss the online criticism of the officer. As a result of that discussion, the mayor posted an update to his Facebook page, this time informing people that Ms. Greatrix didn’t think it was appropriate for commenters to make personal attacks on individual bylaw officers as “they are doing their job”.

Apparently dissatisfied with the way the mayor responded, Ms. Greatrix started the process to submit an official complaint. The original complaint submitted ran about 120 pages and alleged that the mayor had violated 13 sections of the Code of Conduct for Council, Local Boards and Committees. This was the first such complaint ever filed by an Orangeville employee against a member of Council.

The complaints were as follows:

Section 3.1 (misleading statement)

Section 4.1 (only Council as a whole has the authority to direct staff)

Section 6.1 (accurately and adequately communicate the decisions of Council),

Section 13.3 (refrain from conduct which may deter, interfere with or unduly influence staff in the performance of duties)

Section 13.3, 13.4 and 14.2 (treat every person with dignity, understanding and respect)

Section 13.4 (No member shall maliciously or falsely injure the professional or ethical reputation, or the prospects or practice of staff, and all members shall show respect for the professional capacities of the staff of the Town)

Section 13.5 (refrain from making requests or statements which may be construed as an attempt to influence the independent administration of justice)

Section 14.3 (no abuse, bullying or intimidation)

Section 15.1 (encourage public respect for the Town and its bylaws)

Section 15.2 (observe all policies and procedures)

While Mr. Giorno found the mayor was not in violation of any of those provision, he did state that the mayor could have chosen his words more carefully in the original email to Ms. Greatrix, where he asked staff to back off on this issue. He also stated it was unnecessary for the mayor to copy the July 24 email to Ms. Greatrix to two members of the public, while stating Town CAO Ed Brennan should have been included in the email.

Most importantly, the integrity commissioner found that mayor was not out of line with any of the comments on social media, especially those pertaining to the bylaw officer.

In what was a separate issue, Ms. Greatrix complained about the mayor’s conduct following an encounter with a bylaw officer on March 2, 2017. An officer was responding to a complaint that a work truck was parked in an accessible parking spot in front of the County of Dufferin building on Zina Street. On arriving, the officer found the driver of the truck felt he had permission from County staff to park in the spot.

The bylaw officer asked the driver to park his vehicle in another location and didn’t write a ticket. Immediately after that encounter, it was alleged that the mayor approached the bylaw officer, exchanging words, before driving away. In the complaint, Ms. Greatrix states the mayor was overly rude and abrasive with the bylaw officer for not issuing a ticket. In response, the mayor claimed he was polite and wasn’t sure why the officer would complain.

In his report, Mr. Giorno stated he was unable to make any judgement on this issue.

“There were no witnesses to the communication between the respondent and the bylaw enforcement officer. Their recollections differ,” Mr. Giorno wrote.

In closing, Mr. Giorno recommended that Council simply receive this report.

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