“My view is, quite honestly, he ought to have known better.”
That was the opinion of the integrity commissioner for Southwest Middlesex given at the Dec. 15 meeting where Ward 3 Coun. Mike Sholdice was reprimanded and had 30 days of pay suspended by his colleagues.
The 30-day suspension was 20 more than recommended by integrity commissioner John Mascarin from Aird & Berlis LLP. The vote to give the harsher punishment passed 5-2 with Coun. Martin Vink and Mayor Allan Mayhew voting against it.
The Code of Conduct complaint came from an Oct. 13 meeting when council was discussing how to fill the council seat left vacant by the passing of Coun. Ian Carruthers. Sholdice was found to have divulged confidential information at that meeting on another councilor seeking the integrity commissioner’s opinion on conflict of interest.
Coun. Christa Cowell declared a conflict of interest at that meeting where council was considering appointing former councilor Rick Cowell to fill the seat until next election. But it was disclosing that Cowell had sought information on any conflict with her husband’s contract work for Southwest Middlesex that got Sholdice in trouble. He got that information from the treasurer and was told clearly by CAO Jill Bellchamber-Glazier the information was confidential and was not to be divulged publicly.
The commissioner’s report quoted the problem statement during the councilor appointment discussions: “Earlier I had requested through our CAO the information that Councilor Cowell had obtained from the Integrity Commissioner when her husband began working for SWM – information received at the expense of ratepayers. However, I was informed that she will not be willing to share this information. I agree that this might be the most simple option (appointing Rick Cowell) but I question whether there could be future ramifications.”
In the end, council voted to have people apply for the appointment and Amy Choi was later chosen. Coun. Choi was one of the five councilors who voted for the reprimand and 30-day pay suspension on Sholdice.
He was far from contrite. Sholdice responded to the draft report before this meeting by arguing with the conclusion.
“He simply does not understand why that information is confidential,” said Mascarin.
“That’s the only way that the system will work. Council members have to be full and frank in telling me all the relevant details of a matter in order for me to be able to give the proper advice. If they don’t, I can’t. But some of that information may be sensitive. It may be very germane to something that they’re doing but they don’t want to share with anyone else,” explained Mascarin.
Sholdice also was given the opportunity to speak to council on the recommended penalty, and used it to suggest the integrity commissioner was in a conflict of interest because he gave the confidential advice to Cowell in the first place as part of his job as the municipality’s integrity commissioner. Mayor Mayhew stopped him and the commissioner spoke to Sholdice’s suggestion.
“It’s very clear under the scheme of the Act that the integrity commissioner is entitled, is actually mandated to give advice when requested. There is no conflict of interest in then looking at a matter that then comes forward that may somehow relate to the advice that was given, otherwise the integrity commissioner would be booted out of every second thing that may happen because a council member could ask for advice on something and yet be under an investigation,” said Mascarin.
This is not the first time Sholdice was found to have broken the Code of Conduct this term. Sholdice contravened Section 19 of council’s Code of Conduct by discouraging instead of encouraging complainants to come forward when they believe a contravention has occurred. It was related to a complaint against Coun. Vink from Dec. 19, 2018 that was dismissed, though Vink still got in trouble and later apologized for his comments he made Jan. 9, 2019 on the matter.
Sholidce also contravened the procedural by-law by directing his comments at the Jan. 9, 2019 meeting to “the accuser,” thereby making “personal comments.” He was not reprimanded as was recommended by the last integrity commissioner, Mark McDonald.
Coun. Mark McGill said he regretted voting against the past recommended reprimand before voting for the suspension of pay on Sholdice.
“At the time I thought, why can’t we all just get along?” said McGill.
“Looking back at it I may have made a mistake because there should be consequences to people’s actions I believe. It’s just kind of embarrassing to council that these same kind of things keep happening. It would have been nice to see an acknowledgement of wrongdoing and maybe even an apology too, and we did not see that,” he added.
Deputy Mayor Marigay Wilkins agreed.
“I think if every councilor took their positions seriously and knew their role, we’d be in a much better position,” she said after making the motion to give the stiffer penalty.
Vink was the only one on council who made his support of Sholdice clear.
“As a ratepayer and as a person around the table through these three years, I feel Coun. Sholdice is the most valuable person on council,” said Vink.
Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Middlesex Banner