Brant mayor receives 'stern' penalty

By Michelle Ruby, Brantford Expositor

Brant Mayor Ron Eddy has a "documented history of creating a toxic work environment" for municipal staff, according to a report by integrity commissioner Melinda Munro. (Expositor file photo)

Brant Mayor Ron Eddy has a "documented history of creating a toxic work environment" for municipal staff, according to a report by integrity commissioner Melinda Munro. (Expositor file photo)

Brant County Mayor Ron Eddy has been given a five-day suspension of pay after the county's integrity commissioner found him in violation of the municipality's Code of Conduct.

The action stems from derogatory comments Eddy made about a former county employee at a council meeting on June 28, 2016. The comments were heard by two councillors and captured on a live broadcast of the meeting recorded on YouTube.

In her findings, integrity commissioner Melinda Munro said Eddy has "a documented history of creating a toxic work environment for staff of the County of Brant," referring to an investigation done in October 2015.

"The comments of June 28 are simply more of the same," said Munro. "Had they been a one-off comment and out of character, my recommendation as to the penalty under section 23 of the Code of Conduct might have been quite mild.

"However, given the history of this kind of behaviour, the fact that council, including the mayor, had recommitted to a workplace free of harassment, and the mayor's attempt to obfuscate and deflect in the course of this complaint, I feel that a stern response is required."

Eddy did not return calls from The Expositor on Thursday.

Munro also upheld complaints against councillors Shirley Simons and Brian Coleman who heard Eddy's comments but "failed to take any action to censure the mayor for making them, in violation of the Code of Conduct."

Munro recommended that Simons and Coleman be verbally reprimanded by council "that they have a duty to take action and uphold the Code at all times."

The recommendations in the report were approved by council at a special meeting held Wednesday.

The Code of Conduct, created by council, establishes a standard for conduct for council members. It states, in part, that "every member has the duty to treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying, or intimidation." It also states that "all members of council shall ensure that their work environment is free from discrimination and harassment."

The investigation by Munro stemmed from a complaint made by Mark Pomponi, chief planning official for the county, after the mayor responded to a question from Coun. Joan Gatward at the June 28 council meeting.

Gatward asked how close the county was to hiring a new manager of infrastructure.

When the name of a former Brant employee, who moved to work in Norfolk County, was raised, Eddy said: "Oh, don't bring her back."

In her findings, Munro concluded that Eddy not only intentionally made the comments but also suggested that the comments were "meant to be complimentary and tried to impute that Charlie Luke, the mayor of Norfolk, would support this."

In a written response to the commissioner explaining his position, Eddy stated that "in no way was the remark made by me in obvious contempt and antipathy for this employee who left under good terms after 10 years of loyal service. This complaint results from an attempt to misinterpret the intent of my statement."

Eddy also stated in his written response that the real reason for saying "don't bring her back" was that he has friendly working relationship with Luke and the employee in question was working well in Norfolk.

"If Brant was to seek (the former employee's) re-employment I felt it could seriously harm and interfere with an excellent working relationship between Brant's neighbouring municipality - Norfolk County."

When interviewed by Munro, Luke said he couldn't recall ever speaking to Eddy about the performance of the employee in question and "doubts he would have done so given his ordinary practice of not commenting publicly about employee performance."

In her interviews with councillors and city staff present at the June 28 meeting, "no other witness believed that the remarks were meant in anything but a disparaging way," said Munro.

"Any other reasonable person viewing the You Tube video would also find them to be disparaging."

But when Eddy reviewed the You Tube recording with Munro on Jan. 25, "he acknowledged that it was not appropriate to speak about employees under his breath during council meetings," said Munro's report.

When asked by Munro whether it was reasonable for someone hearing the comments to take them in a negative way, Eddy said he could understand why they might.

"He candidly admitted that the incident 'shouldn't have happened,'" said Munro.

"I am particularly concerned with his attempt to deflect responsibility by suggesting that his comments were meant to be complimentary and to impute that another elected official, Mayor Luke, would support this position.

"Rather than take responsibility for making an inappropriate remark, Mayor Eddy took steps to complicate the investigation and involve a third party elected official."

Munro said she also found it troubling that Eddy "suggested on more than one occasion that the complainant was always 'looking for things' to complain about and minimizing that his own behaviour could be the cause of any distress to employees at the county."

In his interview, Pomponi, who didn't respond to a call from The Expositor, said the mayor's comments at the meeting were "part of a continuing pattern of Mayor Eddy belittling staff in public."

A special meeting was called in October 2015 to respond to a Workplace Health and Safety complaint about the conduct of the mayor.

Munro refers to a report prepared by a workplace investigator at the time. The investigator found "credible and convincing evidence" that the mayor "has created a toxic and poisoned work environment for staff at the County of Brant; that staff in planning and the Paris office have experienced abusive and harassing behaviour; that the mayor has harassed and abused the complainant; and that actions have been taken to deal with the harassment, without success."

During their interviews with Munro, several councillors, including Coleman and David Miller, said they thought the mayor's comments on June 28 weren't serious enough to warrant a complaint under the Code of Conduct.

Gatward suggested it as possible the mayor "wasn't trying to be nasty" but that he frequently makes this kind of off-the-cuff remark.

Coun. John Peirce said he "didn't think it was a common practice for the mayor to say 'blatant' things about employees."

Simons, said she found Eddy's comments "uncalled for" but said: "We do not call the mayor on anything he says, as I believe all councillors respect him for his age and his title."

Coun. John Wheat said he isn't surprised by the comments because the mayor "runs his mouth," and said he has seen the mayor be derogatory to staff at other meetings.

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