Gananoque gets new integrity commissioner

Gananoque has a new integrity commissioner.

Council recently appointed Jeffrey Abrams of Principles Integrity as the town’s integrity commissioner for a three-year term.

Principles Integrity comes with an annual retainer of $1,200, so council also approved a $1,200 budget deviation for the 2023 fiscal year to fund the retainer fee.

Principles Integrity’s office is based out of Toronto, with an hourly rate of $250, plus a mileage fee of $0.54.

Council also passed a motion to approve the expenditure of integrity commissioner services to determine if a conflict of interest exists regarding the BIA treasurer also acting as the chamber of commerce treasurer.

The role of the integrity commissioner is to be independent, to perform the functions that are assigned by council with respect to applying the local codes of conduct for members, applying local procedures, rules and policies and governing the ethical behaviour of members.

Tony Fleming, now the former integrity commissioner for the town, is also the town’s lawyer. Mayor John Beddows has been vocal about wanting to separate these roles, saying doing so would help the town avoid the appearance of a conflict.

"I’m not saying there was ever any conflict," Beddows stressed. "What I’m saying is we’re avoiding the appearance of an issue, and that’s an important distinction.”

Staff noted to council that while Principles Integrity scored the highest based on its hourly rate, experience and qualifications, the $1,200 annual retainer fee does not make it the lowest-cost applicant, and it is an unbudgeted item in 2023.

The other direction council could have taken was to appoint Fleming, of Cunningham Swan, who, without the $1,200 retainer fee, scored next-highest. Fleming is based in Kingston.

The cost and mileage fee of Principles Integrity didn’t scare off Deputy Mayor Vicki Leakey, who said that in today’s day and age, most meetings occur virtually anyway.

“We don’t even get our lawyer from Kingston, he’s on Zoom,” Leakey said. “So, I would not back away from Toronto because of cost.”

As the town’s lawyer, and with experience as the town’s integrity commissioner, Fleming does offer familiarity, however, Leakey added.

“Tony (Fleming) knows us,” said Leakey. “That could be a positive or a negative. If we’re looking for somebody to come in, look at the Town of Gananoque, look at each of us individually, look at a situation bare-bones, make a ruling on it … well, if you want independence, I’d go with the first one (Principles Integrity).”

Coun. David Osmond was against moving away from Fleming as the town’s integrity commissioner.

"We haven’t had any problems or any reason to believe over the last several years that Mr. Fleming has done anything with any form of bias,” said Osmond.

This decision by council was exclusively for the town’s integrity commissioner role.

(Keith Dempsey is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of the Brockville Recorder and Times. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.)

Keith Dempsey, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brockville Recorder and Times