County council declines to reprimand Grey Highlands mayor

·3 min read

Grey County council has declined to reprimand Grey Highlands Mayor Paul McQueen after he was found to have violated the county’s Code of Conduct by attending two virtual meetings at the same time.

Council, at its meeting on June 23, voted against a resolution that would have reprimanded McQueen for attending an Affordable Housing Task Force meeting and Niagara Escarpment Commission meeting at the same time on March 17, 2022. The county’s Integrity Commissioner (IC) investigated the matter after Owen Sound Deputy Mayor Brian O’Leary filed a complaint.

After a dramatic and — at times — tense discussion on the issue, council chose to reject a resolution that would have formally reprimanded McQueen in a 63-22 recorded vote.

Jeffrey Abrams of Principles Integrity presented the report to council at the meeting and advised that while McQueen had violated the code of conduct by attending two meetings at once, they were not recommending any formal sanctions against McQueen.

“We believe they’re not warranted,” said Abrams.

The report also weighed in on whether it was appropriate for McQueen to claim a meeting per diem for the NEC meeting (McQueen later declined to claim a per diem) and the reasons why McQueen had chosen to decline to chair the Affordable Housing Task Force meeting. McQueen said he was not feeling well at the time, while other councillors suggested he declined to chair because he knew he would be attending two meetings simultaneously.

“Engaging in multiple meetings simultaneously fails to meet the Code of Conduct obligation on members of council to participate diligently in their responsibilities serving on committees and other bodies to which they are appointed,” the report states.

The integrity commissioner did recommend that the county examine policies around virtual meetings, as they have become commonplace in municipal government over the past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a prepared statement, McQueen stopped short of apologizing for the incident, but did say he had made changes and it won’t happen again.

“I’m not saying I’m a perfect person,” McQueen said later in the meeting. “I have made changes. I will not be anywhere near a second meeting. I don’t take this lightly. I take my job very seriously, moving forward I will do better.”

Several members of council were not satisfied with the IC’s recommendation that McQueen should not be sanctioned on the matter. In response, Abrams explained there are two options for council to consider: a formal reprimand or a suspension of pay for up to 90 days.

Owen Sound representative Richard Thomas wanted more action on the file.

“(McQueen’s) actions were disrespectful,” said Thomas, noting that there is a public “crisis in trust” for political leaders. “He should be held accountable for the fact he tried to attend multiple meetings.”

O’Leary called on McQueen to resign.

“If that’s me, I’d be resigning today,” he said, and asked for McQueen to step down as deputy warden.

Other members of council were reluctant to go against the integrity commissioner's recommendation.

“Coun. McQueen made some mistakes, he’s owned up to those mistakes,” said Chatsworth Mayor Scott Mackey.

The discussion concluded with council voting to receive the integrity commissioner's report and asking county staff to review virtual meeting policies. However, a second resolution to reprimand McQueen was defeated with only the representatives from Southgate and Owen Sound voting in favour.

Chris Fell, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, CollingwoodToday.ca

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