Councillors take mayor to task

Chopp says she breached no confidences

At Tuesday’s meeting of Norfolk council, Mayor Kristal Chopp took another run at the apology she delivered June 9 for staging a haircut protest in front of Governor Simcoe Square with Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt. – Monte Sonnenberg photo

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Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp took her lumps last week as several of her council colleagues told her to knock off the sideshow and begin representing the county with dignity and decorum.

The comments came after the mayor revisited events of June 9 when she and Haldimand Mayor Ken Hewitt received haircuts in front of Governor Simcoe Square.

The mayors staged the event to protest Norfolk and Haldimand’s exclusion from the province’s June 8 announcement of Stage 2 business openings in 24 health unit jurisdictions across the province.

After taking a pounding on social media, Chopp apologized “if I offended somebody” several hours later at the start of the June 9 council meeting. After deciding that was inadequate, Chopp took another run at the apology at the start of the June 16 regular meeting of Norfolk council.

“I was wrong for doing this,” Chopp said. “I let my emotions get the better of me, and you deserve better than that from me.

“From the moment I arrived, I wished I could have taken it back but the wheels were already in motion. I apologized that afternoon within hours of the event. But the more I have thought about it, the more I realize that apology was not sufficient. I have apologized to many people and staff members over the past week but wished to offer a more formal apology here at council today.”

Much of the criticism for the haircuts stemmed from the mayors not social distancing according to public health orders in effect since the COVID-19 pandemic emergency was declared in March.

Hewitt received blowback as well. He apologized to staff, his council colleagues and the people of Haldimand in a post on social media last week.

Chopp’s haircut apology came before council tucked into the latest report from the office of Norfolk’s integrity commissioner in Toronto.

That report concluded that Chopp did not violate Norfolk’s code of conduct or procedural policies when the mayor shared an image of a “shit sandwich” with Municipal Affairs Minister Steven Clark at the annual general meeting of the Rural Ontario Municipal Association (ROMA) in Toronto in January.

However, integrity investigator Meghan Cowan cited Chopp for a privacy violation after she shared the name of the sandwich complainant – former Simcoe Coun. Peter Black – with Norfolk CAO Jason Burgess.

Chopp didn’t apologize for that because the integrity commissioner’s office shared correspondence with the mayor not only on her personal county email account but a second account which several senior county staff have access to. It was through this general account, Chopp said, that the integrity office divulged Black’s identity to Burgess.

Several of Chopp’s colleagues wanted to talk about the image of the unappetizing sandwich and how gestures like that reflect on Norfolk County. Simcoe Coun. Ian Rabbitts said he still can’t believe that Chopp led with such a vulgar image during a high-level meeting with a cabinet minister.

“We might want to have an open and frank discussion with how we present ourselves outside the county,” Rabbitts said. “I just can’t accept this (report) as information. There has to be repercussions.”

Waterford Coun. Kim Huffman took Chopp to task for generating “distractions” that are “damaging our community” and which are “disruptive” and “polarizing.”

For his part, Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus described Chopp’s antics as “immature, shameful and embarrassing.”

“It’s time for accountability,” Columbus said.

Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele and Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin were at the January meeting with Clark. Masschaele offered a partial defence of the mayor by saying the graphic was received in the spirit it was offered and did not scandalize the minister and his assistants.

“You kinda had to be there,” Masschaele said.

Chopp added the gesture was not meant to go public and only became an issue after someone leaked the incident to the media.

Cowan said the mayor deserved a reprimand for the privacy breach and council agreed.

With Huffman casting the lone dissenting vote, council directed the mayor to review Norfolk’s code of conduct and procedural manuals and bring what they say to bear on her day-to-day conduct as head of the municipal corporation.

The resolution also said councillors should do likewise.