BROCKTON – Brockton’s integrity commissioner, Harold Elston, was thanked for his investigation into a code of conduct complaint against Coun. James Lang, and commended for his thorough report.
After considerable discussion, Mayor Chris Peabody asked for a motion to accept the report and promptly moved on to the next order of business – no apology, no reprimand.
The discussion began with a request that Deputy Mayor Dan Gieruszak declare a conflict of interest. Elston was asked for his opinion on the matter and said he could see no conflict, and continued with his report.
Elston had made it clear in his report that the complaint against Lang was made by an anonymous person who was not a member of Brockton council or the Saugeen Municipal Airport Commission.
In presenting the report, which is available on the municipality’s website in the council agenda for April 27, Elston said the main point is “how important it is (for council) to be seen to be working together.” He stressed the importance of proper decorum and a spirit of co-operation, and said it’s “very important people see you trying to get along… not be forceful and aggressive.”
The complainant had reported that Lang had contravened the municipal code of conduct “by aggressively pressing Deputy Mayor Dan Gieruszak to answer questions about a dispute between one of the airport’s pilots and the Saugeen Municipal Airport.” Gieruszak chairs the airport commission.
The allegation was that Lang’s behaviour “did not represent the level of decorum expected of members of council.”
Elston’s finding was that “Councillor Lang spoke in a disrespectful and disparaging manner to Deputy Mayor Gieruszak.”
Elston told council the conflict between the pilot and the airport commission “has a long, complicated history.”
He determined that the deputy mayor had been “very careful in his responses, while Lang was ‘forceful’” in pressing Gieruszak for information.
Elston recommended Lang be reprimanded.
A number of council members weighed in on the matter during discussion.
Coun. Steve Adams said he had brought up the matter himself several times, stating “an individual was being singled out… and information was not forthcoming… I was getting frustrated myself. I thought we should be holding back funding (for the airport).” Adams went on to say he wouldn’t support a strong reprimand, and noted Elston had undoubtedly watched recordings of the meeting in question, “but not the previous 10.”
Coun. Tim Elphick said, “I also spoke to this issue,” and referred to “a number of mitigating factors” regarding Lang.
Elphick mentioned “inaccuracies” in references to “matters before the court,” and Gieruszak replied that “the prosecutor was not sure at that time if there would be an appeal.” He also said he’d expressed a willingness to provide the information Lang had requested “in closed session” but Lang had felt all the information should be presented in open council.
Adams commented the matter had been discussed “many times in closed session.”
Lang made a statement at that point, saying the prosecutor had said there’d be no appeal. He added that the report “deals with bullying… it’s been going on for a long time.” He spoke of wise advice he’d received from his mother: “You do not apologize for something you have not done wrong,” and said he’d been “standing up for one of our taxpayers who’d been harassed” and would do it again. He said he’d accept any reprimand but there’d be no apology.
He further noted that as of Saturday (April 23), the matter was still ongoing.
Gieruszak said he’d seen “the airport manager bullied and harassed,” and spoke of “28 pages” of documentation. He further said his priority was providing a “safe, harassment-free environment for contractors and users at the airport… a safe workplace” and said there was “the other side of the story.”
Lang said the council meeting at which he’d pressed Gieruszak for information had occurred after the prosecutor had said there’d be no appeal.
Clerk Fiona Hamilton, who is a lawyer, stated there’s been discussion about “matters before the court” and noted “other integrity commissioners have said councils should not talk about court matters at any time… it’s not the timing but matters before the court.”
Coun. Dean Leifso referred to the airport matter as “a hot-button issue” and spoke of the need for education about boards and commissions.
Peabody spoke of the fact that “over the past two years, council has made some difficult decisions,” including dealing with the COVID pandemic.
The mayor noted the importance of showing decorum but said, “We all express our opinions.” That expression involves caution in “not crossing the line.” And it’s been maintained. Peabody said the matter of the airport had been discussed during budget deliberations “without things flaring up… I’m very happy with our council… we work very well together.”
The motion to accept the report was moved by Leifso and seconded by Adams.
Pauline Kerr, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Walkerton Herald Times