It was a pecuniary interest, but not a conflict of interest, and therefore no laws were broken.
That’s the conclusion of an investigation by Hawkesbury’s municipal integrity commissioner into the conduct of Mayor Paula Assaly regarding a decision made by council in May of this year to increase her remuneration.
Council approved a 25 per cent pay increase for the mayor on May 27. On June 26, an unnamed resident filed a complaint with Integrity Commissioner John Saywell alleging that Assaly had a pecuniary interest in the subject and should not have in any way influenced in or participated in the debate and vote on the increase. The complaint alleged that the mayor influenced council’s vote by communicating with staff in the preparation of the proposal and provided personal information in support of the proposal. Additionally, the complaint alleged Assaly influenced the outcome of the vote by commenting on the issue to journalists whose coverage was seen by councillors before the by-law authorizing the remuneration increase was finalized.
The remuneration increase was first debated by council on May 13. At that meeting, council sent the proposed by-law back to staff for rewriting due to questions about terminology used in the text. At both the May 13 and May 26 meetings, Assaly declared a conflict of interest and left the council chambers for the duration of the debate and voting.
Initially, a 53 per cent remuneration increase was requested, but on May 13, council instead agreed to a 25 per cent increase. Assaly was not in the council chambers when that compromise was reached.
According to Saywell’s report, “The mayor was examined, as were the two reporters who covered the debate and vote by council.” (Note: The Review was in attendance at both council meetings but was not contacted.) Municipal staff were also interviewed regarding the preparation of meeting agendas that contained information about the matter of the remuneration increase.
During Saywell’s investigation, Assaly maintained that it was within council’s power to debate and decide what her remuneration should be and that she was not involved with the preparation or consideration of the proposal to increase the mayor’s salary. She also emphasized that she answered journalists’ questions solely on the basis of being accountable and transparent.
After an examination of the Municipal Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, Saywell concluded that Assaly did effectively have a pecuniary interest but the Municipal Act empowers councils to decide their own remuneration. The Municipal Conflict of Interest Act grants an exception to any conflict of interest a council member may have arising from their remuneration.
The commissioner concluded that no laws or the municipal code of conduct were violated.
Councillor Robert Lefebvre asked if the case should have even been examined.
Saywell said it was his first case as Integrity Commissioner and he wanted to ensure it was properly addressed.
Council voted to accept the report. According to Saywell’s invoice to the Town of Hawkesbury, he spent 22.2 hours investigating the complaint. Once the sales tax is added, the total cost to the town is $3,936.69.