Brockton Deputy Mayor James Lang resigns – in writing

BROCKTON – Deputy Mayor James Lang has resigned from his position, effective noon, June 14, when his signed letter was presented to Mayor Chris Peabody.

Peabody said the letter has been filed with the clerk. He’s sought a legal opinion.

Peabody said council’s next step will be to declare the deputy mayor’s seat vacant, and in July or August, take steps to fill it. Peabody said in an interview that his preference would be to fill the position of deputy mayor from within, declare the resulting council position vacant, and fill that through an advertisement and interview. “That will be up to council,” said Peabody.

The resignation comes at the same time as the release of the integrity commissioner’s (Principles Integrity – Jeffrey Abrams and Janice Atwood) report and recommendations on a matter involving Lang. The report is included in the agenda of the June 18 council meeting.

It is the culmination of a series of events stemming from an incident alleged to have occurred at the Walkerton Community Centre in December.

The incident came partly to light when Lang announced his resignation at a council meeting on March 15. That resignation was accepted by council but never put in writing, as is required in the Ontario Municipal Act. At the same March 15 council meeting, following a lengthy in-camera session, Peabody read a motion stating “that the council of the municipality of Brockton restricts the access of James Lang to the Walkerton Community Centre, and buildings and grounds, for a period of one year from the date of this resolution.”

Lang subsequently announced his intention to continue as deputy mayor.

This time, the resignation is in writing.

The incident that triggered the integrity commissioner’s report is alleged to have occurred on Dec. 16, 2023. As stated in the report (item 10), “employees of the arena lodged complaints against the deputy mayor alleging that his conduct towards them constituted harassment.”

The conduct, described in item 11 of the report, is alleged to have included “yelling, name-calling, storming around angrily, slamming doors, kicking and punching doors open.”

The complaints were investigated by a third-party investigator, who determined the behaviour constituted harassment.

The report stated the investigator conducted interviews and reviewed video recordings from the arena’s security cameras.

Council had asked whether the behaviour breached the council code of conduct.

Lang is one of three co-owners and president of the Walkerton Capitals.

The report stated (item 18) that “there have been issues in regard to the deputy mayor, in relation to his involvement with the Capitals.” In item 19, the report stated, “It has been challenging for civic administration to manage the conduct of the deputy mayor in this regard, given his hands-on approach to his role with the Capitals and his strong personality.”

The report (item 20) stated the deputy mayor “acknowledged the behaviour, but justified it by the fact he was conducting himself ‘as a manager.’”

The integrity commissioner determined that (items 26-28) “a member of council does not get to ‘remove’ their hat as an elected official; so even while he may be donning his Capitals’ President’s hat, he cannot disrobe from his mantle of responsibility as deputy mayor … even if he were not deputy mayor, a user of the municipal facility would be expected to behave in a civil, respectful and courteous way when interacting with municipal staff.”

The report pointed out in item 29, “It is notable that in April 2023, Brockton council adopted an amended alcohol policy strictly prohibiting consumption of alcohol in dressing rooms …”

The report further noted that “name-calling … is not managing staff” and that kicking and slamming doors “would be quickly called out if done by staff.”

As stated in item 40, there is a clear “power imbalance” involved – staff “cannot return fire when they are being attacked because members of council are perceived as holding power over them.”

What it adds up to, is the integrity commissioner found (item 45) the behaviour “contravened the council code of conduct.”

In item 55, the report stated the deputy mayor had been provided with the opportunity to review the report prior to its release, and he chose not to make a written submission. The report stated, “We find this to be an unfortunate missed opportunity to offer a belated genuine apology,” and went on to state, in item 56, “we think it is appropriate that the deputy mayor be given ‘time in the penalty box’ for his behaviour.”

As stated in item 8 of the report, the integrity commissioner recommends “that the deputy mayor continue to be banned from the arena until the new year, Jan. 1, 2025, at which time he may attend but only at such times as the Walkerton Capitals are using the facility or the executive are meeting at the facility, and only when accompanied by another member of the Walkerton Capitals executive or the coach (or an assistant coach).”

In item 58, the report noted “any repeat misbehaviour would result in an immediate imposition of the balance of the one-year ban.”

Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times