Transcript: Why Do Cities Need Integrity Commissioners? | Nov 20, 2020

Jeyan sits in the studio. He's is in his thirties, with short black hair and a trimmed beard. He's wearing a blue suit, white shirt, and striped beige tie.

A caption on screen reads "Why cities have integrity commissioners. Jeyan Jeganathan. @JeyanTVO. @theagenda."

A wall screen reads "Ontario Hubs."

Jeyan says IF YOU HAVE A COMPLAINT ABOUT SOMETHING YOUR MUNICIPAL COUNCILLOR OR A MEMBER OF A CITY BOARD HAS DONE, ONTARIO'S GIVEN CITIZENS ANOTHER WAY TO BE HEARD. INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS ARE NOW REQUIRED FOR EVERY MUNICIPALITY. HERE'S AN OVERVIEW OF WHAT THAT MEANS.

A clip plays on screen showing key words mentioned by Jeyan

Jeyan narrates WHAT IS AN ONTARIO INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER? INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS OF BREACHES OF CONDUCT BY MUNICIPAL OFFICIALS. COMMISSIONERS ARE APPOINTED UNDER SECTION 223.3 OF THE ONTARIO MUNICIPAL ACT. AS OF 2019, ALL ONTARIO MUNICIPALITIES ARE REQUIRED TO HAVE AN INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER. THE COMMISSIONER'S WORK BEGINS WHEN A COMPLAINT IS MADE THAT A CIVIC OFFICIAL THAT IS CONTRAVENED A CODE OF CONDUCT. COMPLAINTS CAN BE FILED AGAINST COUNCILLORS AND MEMBERS OF CIVIC BOARDS. ANYONE CAN FILE A COMPLAINT. THE COMMISSIONER REVIEWS THE COMPLAINT AND DETERMINES IF AN INVESTIGATION IS WARRANTED. THE MUNICIPALITY AND MUNICIPAL BOARD MUST GIVE THE COMMISSIONER INFORMATION NEEDED TO INVESTIGATE THE COMPLAINT, SUCH AS FINANCIAL RECORDS, ELECTRONIC DATA, REPORTS, AND FILES. ONCE THE INVESTIGATION IS COMPLETED, THE COMMISSIONER MAKES A RECOMMENDATION TO THE MUNICIPAL COUNCIL. IF A CONTRAVENTION OF THE CODE OF CONDUCT HAS OCCURRED, THE MUNICIPALITY CAN IMPOSE A PENALTY. PENALTIES RANGE FROM A REPRIMAND TO A 90-DAY SUSPENSION.

The clip ends.

Jeyan says JUSTIN CHANDLER COVERS HAMILTON-NIAGARA FOR ONTARIO HUBS AND HE JOINS US FROM HAMILTON ON WHY THAT SHOULD MATTER TO CITIZENS AT LARGE. WELCOME TO THE SHOW.

Justin is in his twenties, clean-shaven, with short brown hair. He's wearing a gray suit, blue shirt and black tie.

He says THANKS FOR HAVING ME.

Jeyan says NOW THAT WE KNOW WHAT INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS ARE, WHY ARE THEY NEEDED?

The caption changes to "Justin Chandler. Hamilton-Niagara Hub Journalist."
Then, it changes again to "Democracy in action."

Justin says THIS IS AN ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICE AND GIVES ACCOUNTABILITY TO PEOPLE TO REPORT THINGS THEY THINK MAY HAVE GONE WRONG WITH A COUNCILLOR OR WITH A LOCAL BOARD. THE REASON THIS IS IMPORTANT IS WE DO HAVE OTHER ACCOUNTABILITY OFFICES IN ONTARIO, FOR EXAMPLE THE ONTARIO OMBUDSMAN, WHICH THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER IS SORT OF BURIED UNDERNEATH. WHERE THE OMBUDSMAN LOOKS AT BIGGER PICTURE THINGS, FOR EXAMPLE THE CRISIS IN LONG-TERM CARE HOMES, THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER CAN ACTUALLY LOOK AT THAT PERSON THAT SITS ON THE POLICE BOARD AT YOUR COUNCIL WHO IS LOOKING AFTER A PARTICULAR PORTFOLIO OF MONEY OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. SO IT GETS A LOT MORE GRANULAR, BUT THESE ARE STILL IMPORTANT THINGS THAT AFFECT THE NEIGHBOURHOOD.

Jeyan says AS WE NOTED, THIS WAS MADE MANDATORY IN 2019. I'M SURE PEOPLE ARE WONDERING, YOU KNOW, WHY SHOULD THEY CARE ABOUT THE APPOINTMENT OF AN INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER IN THEIR TOWN OR CITY.

Justin says WELL, AGAIN, IT'S SOMETHING THAT... THIS IS YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD, IT'S YOUR TOWN, IT'S YOUR CITY, AND THERE'S RULES THAT HAVE TO BE FOLLOWED FOR THE PEOPLE WHO GOVERN THEM. SO THESE ARE PEOPLE WHO ARE TASKED WITH ENFORCING THOSE RULES. AND WHETHER OR NOT YOU CARE ABOUT THE RULES, THEY'RE DOING IT WITH YOUR MONEY. THAT'S ANOTHER REASON TO CARE. BECAUSE IN THE END IT'S THE MUNICIPALITY THAT IS FOOTING THE BILL FOR THIS.

Jeyan says THIS CAN BE QUITE EXPENSIVE WHEN WE TALK ABOUT AT THE END OF THE DAY THESE REPORTS ARE DONE. HOW HIGH CAN THEY GO?

The caption changes to "Justin Chandler, @mr_lois_lane."

Justin says THAT REALLY DEPENDS ON HOW MANY INVESTIGATIONS ARE HAPPENING. INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS CAN ALSO BILL FOR ADVICE. SO COUNCILLORS, IF THEY THINK THEY MIGHT BE RUNNING AFOUL, SAY A CONFLICT OF INTEREST RULE, THEY CAN TALK TO THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER AND THEY CAN BILL FOR THAT ADVICE. THEY SAY THAT CAN BE A BIT OF A COST SAVINGS. THESE INVESTIGATIONS, FOR EXAMPLE, IN PORT COLBORNE THIS YEAR, HIT UP TO NEARLY 40,000 dollars, IN NIAGARA FALLS AROUND 145,000 dollars, IN WELLAND THEY SPENT ABOUT 10,000 dollars, AND THAT WAS FOR ADVICE AND FOR INVESTIGATIONS. BUT YOU CAN SEE THAT IT RACKS UP PRETTY QUICKLY.

Jeyan says I WANT TO TALK ABOUT ONE REPORT YOU HIGHLIGHTED IN YOUR LATEST ARTICLE FOR TVO.org THAT HAD A RELATIVELY POSITIVE OUTCOME. TELL US ABOUT THIS.

A screenshot from the TVO website pops up showing an article. It reads "tvo.org/OntarioHubs. Hamilton-Niagara. Should you have to pay to file complaints about politicians? By Justin Chandler."

Justin says SO THIS WAS A CASE IN WELLAND WHERE A COUNCILLOR... BASICALLY HE OWNS A CAFE. AND THE CAFE DOES SOME BUSINESS WITH THE LIBRARY. AND SO WHEN A DECISION ABOUT THE LIBRARY CAME BEFORE COUNCIL, THIS COUNCILLOR SHOULD HAVE RECUSED HIMSELF FROM THE DECISION. HE HAD IN THE PAST. HOWEVER, IN THIS CASE, HE DID NOT. SO HE SAID THAT THIS WAS AN OVERSIGHT. IT WAS BROUGHT FORWARD TO THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER. THEY TALKED IT OUT AND THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER SAID, YES, I BELIEVE THIS WAS AN OVERSIGHT AND THIS PERSON SHOULD APOLOGIZE. SO THE COUNCILLOR APOLOGIZED AND SAID THAT THEY THINK... THEY DIDN'T WANT TO DO IT AND THEY FELT BAD, NOBODY LIKES TO GET CALLED OUT FOR MAKING A MISTAKE. BUT IN THE END, THEY SAID THIS WAS A GOOD PROCESS AND THEY LEARNED FROM THEIR MISTAKE.

Jeyan says IT SEEMS LIKE A PRETTY SAFE CASE. BUT I CAN SEE THIS BEING POLITICIZED OR WEAPONIZED. HAS THAT BEEN THE CASE IN SOME OF THE EXAMPLES THAT YOU'VE SEEN?

Justin says YES, THINGS CAN GET A LITTLE BIT SPICY. ALSO IN WELLAND WE HAD A CASE WHERE THERE WAS ONE PARTICULAR COUNCILLOR WHO REALLY DIDN'T LIKE THAT ANOTHER COUNCILLOR WAS SMILING AT HIM IN A MEETING, AND SO HE BASICALLY TOLD THE OTHER COUNCILLOR, I'LL MEET YOU OUT IN THE PARKING LOT, OR SOMETHING LIKE THAT. AND SO THAT COUNCILLOR FILED A COMPLAINT SAYING THE COUNCILLOR OVER THERE COMPLAINED ABOUT ME WHEN I WAS SMILING AND THREATENED ME. AND SO THIS WENT FORWARD TO THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER, AND THEN THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER BROUGHT UP THE COUNCILLOR AND SAID WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO SAY FOR YOURSELF? HE BROUGHT FORWARD A COUNTERCLAIM AND SAID HE WAS BEING HARASSED BY THE SMILER. YOU CAN SEE IT GETS A LITTLE CONVOLUTED.

Jeyan says BACK AND FORTH, BACK AND FORTH. I'M CURIOUS ABOUT THE COSTS. HOW ACCESSIBLE IS THIS? IN EXAMPLES HERE, WE HAVE COUNCILLORS MAKING COMPLAINTS AGAINST OTHER COUNCILLORS. CAN CITIZENS DO THAT AS WELL?

Justin says CITIZENS CAN AS WELL. THIS GETS COMPLICATED. REMEMBER, THIS IS A RELATIVELY NEWER EXPENSE, BEING AS SOME COUNCILS HAD INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS BEFORE, BUT SINCE 2019 THEY BECAME MORE KNOWN AND MORE PEOPLE ARE PERHAPS MAKING COMPLAINTS THAN THEY WERE BEFORE, IS SOME OF THE BELIEF AROUND THIS. SO IN AN EFFORT NOW TO TAMP DOWN INCREASING COSTS, CERTAIN COUNCILS ARE TRYING TO IMPOSE FEES ON PEOPLE TO MAKE COMPLAINTS. FOR EXAMPLE, IN ST. CATHARINES, IT COSTS ABOUT 36 dollars TO MAKE A FEE. IN NIAGARA FALLS, THEY RECENTLY RULED TO MAKE A 200 dollar FEE TO FILE A COMPLAINT. AND IN WELLAND, THEY HAD A SIMILAR BILL ON THE TABLE BUT THEY ENDED UP VOTING THAT DOWN. BUT THESE ARE WAYS THAT, YEAH, THEORETICALLY, YOU COULD END UP PAYING MORE NOW.

Jeyan says I'M CURIOUS, SHOULD THIS NOT BE A FREE SERVICE?

Justin says WELL, THAT'S WHAT THE ONTARIO OMBUDSMAN SAYS. THEY SAY THIS SHOULD BE A FREE SERVICE AND INTEGRITY COMMISSIONERS CAN THROW OUT FRIVOLOUS COMPLAINTS AS YOU SAW IN THAT EXAMPLE IN WELLAND WITH THE SMILING. BUT SOME COUNCILLORS DON'T AGREE AND SAY THIS IS COSTING A LOT OF MONEY, THEY'RE WORRIED ABOUT THE INFIGHTING AND THEY'RE LOOKING FOR ANY SORT OF DETERRENT.

Jeyan says LET'S TALK PENALTIES. ARE THERE REAL PENALTIES OR IS THIS JUST PAPERWORK? WHAT I'M REALLY ASKING IS, CAN YOU GET FIRED FOR A COMPLAINT THAT GOES THROUGH?

Justin says NOT BY THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER. THEY CAN DOCK YOU 90 DAYS' PAY, WHICH IS SIGNIFICANT, ESPECIALLY IN A SMALLER TOWN, YOU HAVE TWO JOBS, SO YOU'RE A COUNCILLOR AND SOMETHING ELSE. MAYBE THIS IS A BIG PORTION OF YOUR INCOME. BUT THERE'S ALSO CASES WHERE THEY MIGHT REMOVE YOU FROM A BOARD. IN THE END, THE ULTIMATE PUNISHMENT IS UP TO COUNCIL. THE INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER RECOMMENDS THE PENALTY AND COUNCIL DECIDES WHETHER OR NOT THEY DOCK YOUR PAY. FIRING THE SECURITY COUNCIL IS THE ELECTORATE, SO THAT'S THE VOTERS. THERE IS EVIDENCE TO SHOW THAT INTEGRITY COMMISSIONER RULINGS DON'T MAKE AN IMPACT AT ELECTION BUT MAYBE NOT ENOUGH PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEM.

The caption changes to "Producer: Carla Lucchetta, @carrletta."

Jeyan says JUSTIN, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. A VERY IMPORTANT STORY, OF COURSE. THAT'S JUSTIN CHANDLER, OUR HAMILTON-NIAGARA HUB JOURNALIST. THANKS AGAIN.

Justin says THANK YOU VERY MUCH.

(music plays)

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Watch: Why Do Cities Need Integrity Commissioners?