Independent investigator to examine alleged councillor misconduct

·4 min read

An allegation of misconduct by a Strathmore town councillor has led to the start of an independent investigation.

During the Oct. 21 regular council meeting, Councillor Jason Montgomery brought forth a complaint alleging that Councillor Denise Peterson engaged in misconduct during the July 22 and Sept. 2 regular council meetings.

Montgomery alleges Peterson violated the Council Code of Conduct (Bylaw 19-08) by making false and misleading statements and by bullying and intimidating other council members, and that she violated the Council Procedure Bylaw 16-18 by engaging in disorderly conduct, disturbing the proceedings of council and refusing to assume personal responsibility for one of her statements. Additionally, Montgomery alleges Peterson violated the Municipal Government Act by releasing confidential information.

“It is incumbent on council to diligently investigate any reported violations of protocols and regulations that govern council’s behaviour (to) ensure that we are held to the standards expected by our residents,” said Montgomery during the Oct. 21 meeting.

While the specific nature of the alleged misconduct was not discussed during the meeting, eight alleged breaches of conduct are included in a written formal complaint submitted by Montgomery, which is included in the town council’s Oct. 21 agenda package available online on the town’s website.

During the Oct. 21 meeting, Montgomery then made a motion for council to investigate these alleged breaches of protocol.

During the meeting, Doug Lagore, interim town chief administrative officer, recommended the investigation be conducted by an independent third party rather than by council itself, an option which he said was also favoured by legal counsel.

“It’s almost impossible for the council to investigate one of its own members without having a bias of one way or the other,” he said.

Mayor Pat Fule echoed this view. “I could never support this council investigating – there’s clear bias involved,” he said.

An independent investigation would cost at least $15,000, said Lagore.

Jennifer Sawatzky, the town’s director of strategic and administrative services, confirmed that a council-led investigation is permitted under town procedure, however.

Lagore suggested that instead of an investigation, council engage in a closed-door meeting to attempt to resolve the issues through mediation. Councillor Melanie Corbiell supported this option.

“I think that this council has a few issues that maybe we can discuss, and maybe we don’t have to have more incidents like this in public,” she said.

Montgomery initially resisted the idea of a third-party investigation.

“I don’t think it’s worth spending $15,000 on personally, but I want to see this process move forward, because I believe that something should be done about this behaviour,” he said.

However, following discussions in which Fule and Councillors Bob Sobol and Peterson voiced support for a third-party investigation, Montgomery accepted an amendment to his motion to have the investigation conducted by an independent third party of council’s choosing.

Councillor Lorraine Bauer said she would support the motion, as long as everyone involved had a time to be heard.

Councillor Tari Cockx said she would not support the motion because of its cost.

“I am not in favour of spending the dollars for the investigation,” she said.

The motion passed with support from six councillors, with only Cockx voting in opposition. A short list of third-party groups to perform the investigation will be presented to council by Lagore.

Following the meeting, Montgomery told the Strathmore Times that investigating the allegations is necessary because of their “serious nature,” and they are part of what he described as an “ongoing pattern of conduct” by Peterson.

“It is important that council hold itself to the highest standards with regards to making accurate and truthful statements, taking responsibility for those statements, acting professionally in our meetings, as well as treating fellow councillors respectfully and accepting that there are differences of opinion when it comes to the various issues we face,” said Montgomery. “These complaints are not a result of a single isolated incident, and I believe that in order to function properly and professionally as a council, we have to uphold the standards we have set for ourselves and each other in our procedure bylaw and code of conduct.”

Also after the meeting, Peterson told the Strathmore Times she has committed to keep her actions as councillor in full view of the public, where possible.

“In my opinion, the behind the scenes incidents have elevated the dysfunction of this council, without adding any recourse for resolution,” she said. “Disagreement among council is not inherently bad; weaponizing bylaws and procedures is.

“In the ensuing days, either through an investigation or other means, this community will hear a reasoned response to the allegations made against me,” added Peterson. “In the year this council has left, my commitment to transparency will be to let the community see, measure and judge both my actions and the actions of this council, past, present and in the upcoming year, and to use those judgments to exercise their democratic right going forward.”

Sean Feagan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times