The integrity commissioner for the Town of Essex is recommending 30 days without pay for a councillor after investigating allegations she "publicly and continuously" harassed staff with the municipally-run electrical utility through her social media posts.
Ward 4 Coun. Sherry Bondy violated the code of conduct for council members in her treatment of staff at E.L.K. Energy as well as staff with the town itself, integrity commissioner Robert Swayze concluded in a report released Thursday.
Council members will hold a vote at their meeting on Monday on whether to adopt Swayze's recommendation to impose the sanction.
In an interview, Bondy rejected Swayze's conclusion that her criticism went as far as harassment but acknowledged her tone can be "a little too direct and straightforward."
"It's a gag order, really. Because I ask the hard questions," she said.
She said that her criticism of E.L.K. Energy reflects the concerns of her constituents, who are experiencing outages and electrical flickering too often. She wants council and the utility's board to do something about it.
"We have questions about E.L.K, Energy's asset management plan and how much they're investing back into infrastructure," she said.
"So, the integrity commissioner can side with the mayor and say it's harassment. How I look at it, I'm just doing my job."
Mayor launched complaint
The report was sparked by a complaint from Essex Mayor Larry Snively in April. Snively declined an interview request.
The allegations pertain to a video filmed in front of E.L.K. Energy (the contents of which were not described in the report) and comments Bondy has made on social media — including a meme featuring a cartoon light bulb being led to the gallows as candles look on.
Swayze said he rejected Bondy's claim that the light bulb character was not intended to portray an E.L.K. Energy staff member, given her history of criticism.
Her "diatribes" on social media are affecting staff morale and recruitment at the utility, and have led to more pushback from customers, Swazye wrote.
"Complaints from the public have substantially increased from four years ago, before she started stirring up the community. I am advised that the provision of reliable and good electrical service has increased over the past four years," Swayze wrote.
The mayor also requested that Swayze's investigation include another social media post, made in late June, where Bondy was critical of a new policy on meeting attendance during COVID-19.
"Then they lecture me about acting like a team. There is no team here at the [Town of Essex] and I am the only one not afraid to say so," she wrote in part.
Swazye said councillors have the right to be critical of municipal employees, but in front of other councillors and in private.
"I suspect that she believes her public diatribes against staff will get her votes. I regard her behaviour against staff members as inappropriate politics," he wrote.
Bondy said she believes the mayor's complaint was politically motivated, given her intention to run for mayor in the next election, and because she raised concerns in the 2018 municipal election that saw Snively charged under the Elections Act.
Swayze's report said Bondy's behaviour "must stop" and if her criticism of staff continues, he will recommend a 90-day suspension each time.