Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel will not be reprimanded by his colleagues for using emails he accessed in his official duties as councillor to promote his mayoral bid for the municipal election in October.
By a margin of 7-4, council defeated a motion Thursday that would have seen Nickel issued an official letter of reprimand for violating council's official code of conduct.
The code of conduct bars councillors from using city email distribution lists for their election campaigns.
Sanctions against councillors are considered special resolutions and require at least two-thirds of councillors present to vote in favour. Thursday's vote would have required nine votes to pass.
Integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel had recommended the punishment following her investigation of four separate complaints levied against Nickel.
In the complaints, detailed in a series of investigative reports issued by Pytel earlier this month, residents said they had received unsolicited emails from Nickel's campaign asking for their political support.
The Ward 11 councillor, who did not attend Thursday's meeting, has said the complaints against him are either unfounded or politically motivated.
Thursday's vote was not without controversy.
Coun.Tony Caterina, who voted against the sanction, said some councillors were biased against Nickel and should not be charged with deciding his punishment.
An 'unparliamentary' text message
Caterina told the meeting he received a text message from Coun. Michael Walters Thursday morning which described Nickel as a "motherf--ker."
"The biases are extremely obvious," Caterina said before revealing the contents of the text to his council colleagues.
"This goes to the fairness of this process. The mover of this motion to sanction, that's his mindset coming into this hearing ... this certainly is not OK."
Caterina also said that he didn't think "any harm was done" by the unsolicited emails. The four constituents who received them could have easily blocked any future messages from Nickel's political campaign, he said.
Walters later apologized to his colleagues for his use of "unparliamentary language" but told the meeting he was enraged by Nickel's repeated violations of the code.
"The anger I feel [is] about having my time wasted, my constituents' time wasted, the money that's being wasted on this process, when the violations are as plain as day," Walters said.
Nickel told Pytel the complainants had signed on for political correspondence, either through his website or contact with his previous election campaigns — a claim the residents denied.
On Thursday, Pytel said Nickel was uncooperative with her investigation and has repeatedly flouted the code with "progressive violations."
Nickel's lawyer Jonathan Denis told council that Pytel did not have jurisdiction to impose sanctions.
Denis also questioned what political gain could come from four email addresses. He said punishing Nickel would set a "very dangerous precedent" for regulating political activity.
"The line between what constitutes government work and political work can often be very, very blurred," Denis said.
Mayor Don Iveson, who voted in favour of a reprimand, questioned Denis's argument.
Councillors should be held to a higher standard, Iveson said.
"The argument raised by Mr. Denis that the line between government work and political work can get blurred is deeply problematic because this council has said it should not," Iveson said.
"To disbelieve those four citizens to get out of the awkwardness of administering accountability for a black and white election neutrality section of the code is deeply problematic."
Social media and censure
A sanction hearing on a separate set of complaints focused on Nickel's recent social media activity was postponed until July 5.
That hearing stems from social media posts Nickel made on April 12 and 13 of this year.
In the posts, Nickel accused councillor Andrew Knack of having filed a past code of conduct complaint against him in mid-2020 and described the previous investigation as a "$50,000 stunt."