Hawkesbury council has rejected three out of five sanctions recommended by the municipal Integrity Commissioner in a recent report alleging violations of the municipal code of conduct. 

According to a report from Integrity Commissioner Valerie McGarry, presented at the September 27 council meeting, a complaint was received on September 4, 2020, alleging various infractions of the code of conduct by all members of council, including Mayor Paula Assaly. A complaint was also made against the Hawkesbury COMZAC-BIA, the local agency responsible for improving the downtown business district. The complaint alleged the COMZAC-BIA has no records of public meetings and has not remitted financial statements for a number of years. 

The complaints were initially filed with previous Integrity Commissioner John Saywell. However, Saywell decided to forward them to McGarry, a lawyer specializing in municipal law from southwestern Ontario because there was concern he could not make an unbiased decision.  

“In a general way, it is alleged that the mayor has acted in bad faith, engaged in acts of political vengeance (generally), and waged a personal vendetta against the complainant, putting the mayor’s personal needs, desires, and well-being ahead of those of the town and its citizens,” states McGarry’s report. 

The complaints originate from a closed session council meeting on June 16, 2020, where three municipal employees were dismissed. The mayor had approached three members of council prior to the meeting to secure the votes required to approve the terminations. Other members of council allege they were not given prior notifications of the terminations being added to the meeting agenda. Then-Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Daniel Gatien objected to the way in which council was addressing the terminations.

The complainant alleged Assaly violated the code of conduct with respect to the confidentiality of information received at a closed meeting. However, McGarry was unable to find actual proof that members of council were the source of the breach of confidentiality. Her report explains Assaly was initially attempting to speak as vaguely as possible about the closed session business during the short open session. Gatien had been given the opportunity to express his objections to council’s closed session decision and it was during that part of the conversation when the alleged breach of confidentiality occurred. However, the names of the three individuals were not disclosed. 

“There was a loss of privacy and confidentiality, to be sure, but it was not caused by anything said or done by any member of council,” states McGarry’s report. 

In the second complaint, it was alleged the mayor usurped the complainant’s role and responsibilities with respect to hiring a project manager to undertake work for the Hawkesbury Industrial Investment Association, the COMZAC-BIA, and the Employment Services Centre of Prescott-Russell. 

McGarry told council she believes the mayor was more involved in hiring the project manager than she had let on. 

“Your code of conduct is not being well adhered to as a whole,” she told council.  

McGarry recommended that council adopt five sanctions in response to her report. They were:

  • That Assaly and Councillors Lawrence Bogue, Andre Chamaillard, and Antonios Tsourounakis sign a formal apology to the complainant and other affected individuals.
  • That council receive additional professional coaching.
  • That council reprimand Assaly for violations of the code of conduct and Municipal Act.
  • That council formally define who composes the municipal management team and that all hiring and dismissal of municipal employees require a two-thirds majority vote of council.
  • That a copy of McGarry’s report and other related reports be sent to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs so the Minister may make future inquiries. 

Councillor Yves Paquette was hopeful that council can still do a good job in the year left before the next election, but did not think further coaching was necessary for the remaining term of office for council. 

“I have no interest in going through any coaching whatsover,” Paquette said.

Bogue disagreed with McGarry’s statement that she received information that the COMZAC-BIA did not have a budget between 2018 and 2020. 

“We would not have had the money from the town if we had no budget,” Bogue insisted.

The Hawkesbury mayor gave a lengthy response to the report and said her remarks were directed to council and citizens of the town.  

“My first function is to represent voters,” Assaly said.

Assaly alleged the nomination of CAO Dominique Dussault by Councillors Raymond Campbell, Robert Lefebvre, and Paquette in 2020 was a “tit for tat,” response for the earlier voting bloc to dismiss the employees. 

The mayor defended her actions, record, and practices, and disputed McGarry’s description of the town hall as dysfunctional. 

Following a suggestion from Lefebvre, council agreed to receive McGarry’s report separately from the sanctions. The motion to receive the report was carried and council agreed with Paquette’s recommendation to vote on one sanction at a time.

No councillor would move the sanction to require Assaly, Bogue, Chamaillard, and Tsourounakis to sign a letter of apology, resulting in its rejection. The sanction to have council seek coaching met the same fate, along with the sanction to reprimand Assaly. 

On Lefebvre’s recommendation, council agreed to table the sanction to better define the composition of the management team and require a two-thirds majority for terminations and hiring and forward it to the town’s human resources lawyer for further consideration. 

Council also approved the sanction to send a copy of McGarry’s report to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs. Lefebvre also recommended it be sent to the Ministry of Labour, and council agreed.