Councillor violated privacy rules: integrity commissioner

LANSDOWNE – An integrity commissioner has recommended Leeds and Thousand Islands Coun. John Paul Jackson should forfeit 90 days pay for violating the township’s code of conduct in regards to private meeting rules.

In a ruling released this month, investigator Nigel Bellchamber of Amberley Gavel Limited said it “almost immediately became apparent” at the onset of their probe that a breach of the code of conduct had taken place.

“There is no doubt that Councillor John Paul Jackson deliberately breached confidentiality with respect to matters discussed in closed session,” the ruling stated.

Bellchamber was referring to a couple of private meetings in May. Jackson had decided to go public with a council plan to admonish four employees for making false claims of sexual and workplace harassment against another worker.

Jackson had felt the plan to fire two workers and suspend the other two for their actions was heavy-handed.

Jackson had become frustrated with Mayor Joe Baptista’s refusal to release a full investigator’s report into the workplace harassment case. Council was provided with a summary of the case instead, which Jackson felt wasn’t adequate in order for council to make an informed decision.

During an investigator’s interview, Jackson told them that “ethics trumps procedure”, implying that “violating confidentiality was ethical but the maintenance of confidentiality with simply procedure,” the ruling reads.

But the investigators did not accept that argument, stating that disclosing the closed meeting conversations was “clearly a breach of ethical behaviour.”

There are only a couple of “rare” circumstances where breaking the rules would be warranted. Those would be prevention or detection of a crime or an issue of public safety.

But the investigator found that neither of those had taken place.

Bellweather is also concerned about the fallout of this case on a couple of fronts.

One is the optics of the councillor speaking on behalf of the employees, who now have “a permanent internet based record questioning their behaviour and their employment performance by association with his inappropriate disclosure.”

The other is the possible “poisoned work environment” now that other councillors and staff may be worried in-camera discussions won’t stay behind closed doors.

Jackson has been unapologetic for his actions and believes he exposed the “darker side” of the municipality, as he stated during a July council meeting. He had welcomed the investigation by the integrity commissioner and expected to receive the full punishment from the integrity commissioner – 90 days pay.

The report will likely be received by council at its next meeting, Monday, Sept. 11, 2017 at 7 p.m.

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