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Monday Jun 4th - 2012
Rift between some councillors and Guelph city staffers, report suggests
GUELPH — The first report of the City of Guelph’s new integrity commissioner suggests Guelph city council and senior municipal staffers need to play nice with each other.
The need for the two sides to get along better is a recurring theme in Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze’s look into issues created by an April 20 Guelph Mercury article.
That article centred around Coun. Cam Guthrie, who, with the support of four other councillors, made a Freedom of Information request to obtain a copy of a provincial government report on the city’s composting plant that municipal staff had but declined to release to them.
The newspaper article also touched on concerns Coun. Gloria Kovach had with civic staff regarding her frustrations about obtaining information about an unrelated manner.
Swayze’s report suggested that a series of “team building meetings” could be set up with a private professional facilitator to try and help improve the relationship between senior staff and council.
“We don’t need to spend more of the taxpayers’ money on some kind of rah-rah team-building exercises,” said Guthrie, when asked to comment on the report.
“I don’t need a report or a commissioner to tell me I need to make amends with a staff member. My conscience will tell me before that that I need to do that,” the Ward 4 councillor said.
Guthrie said the real problem lies with city policy that prevented an important report from being released to council that he said was already available to the public through the Ministry of the Environment.
Policy, not staff, is the problem, Guthrie said.
Kovach couldn’t be reached for comment Friday. But Coun. Bob Bell, who along with Kovach opposed the decision to have the integrity commissioner review the issue, said he never did see the matter as something in need of the commissioner’s involvement.
“It’s an odd name, ‘integrity,’” said Bell, who declined to expand on his comment.
“I’d better not say too much,” Bell concluded.
Guthrie said that he too would like to say more about the whole ordeal, but he’s “afraid to say things now aloud” now that there’s the “threat of an integrity commissioner over my head.”
One of his options to have the matter aired more thoroughly, he said, is to ask for a full investigation by the same commissioner. But he’s afraid that would waste time and money.
The integrity commissioner is paid yearly retainer and $235 per hour for his work.
Swayze’s report, which goes to council Monday night, points out that he did not do a full investigation into the complaint.
“It seems clear that the relationship between staff and these councilors is not what it should be,” states the report.
In defence of staff, the report said it’s important for councilors to understand that staff “cannot drop what they are doing instantly and devote their time to the councilor.”
However, the report also suggests staff might have been able to release the document sought in this instance to council sooner than it did.
It also said Guthrie should have pursued more “internal remedies” at city hall open to councillors to obtain this report before filing a freedom of information request.
It asserts that if council calls for a full investigation, some councillors are likely to be found to have violated council’s code of conduct. But he urges a different course of action.
“I do not want to recommend sanctions against councillors at this time,” Swayze states in the report. “I feel it is in the best interests of all concerned to move on.”