Toronto lawyer John Mascarin lamented the mass exodus of staff at Governor Simcoe Square in his recent annual report on his inaugural year as Norfolk County’s integrity commissioner.
“It is no secret that the county has had a massive turnover in its senior administration in 2019, including three different chief administrative officers,” Mascarin said in his 10-page report.
“The magnitude of loss of institutional and administrative skill cannot be understated.”
Also exiting the municipal corporation in 2019 were senior managers in human resources, public works, planning, tourism and economic development, culture and heritage, and the treasury department.
“Good governance is not simply about maintaining tax rates,” the Mascarin report says. “It is not only about fiscal responsibility. It is not only about providing services.
“Good governance also entails adherence to and respect for established ethical codes and standards – something this council was willing to overlook during its first (year) of office.”
Mascarin has had some pointed things to say about Norfolk council over the past year, criticisms that Mayor Kristal Chopp has not allowed to pass unremarked.
At the April 28 meeting where Mascarin’s report was presented, Chopp cited a number of irregularities and surprises that attended this council’s first year on the job.
Among them are significant water supply deficits in Port Dover and Waterford; a $14.5-million capital budget that has ballooned to more than $100 million due to urgent water and sewer work in Port Dover, Waterford and Simcoe; millions of dollars in uncollected drainage fees accumulated over years, and sole-source tendering practices that may have added millions in additional costs to key infrastructure projects.
“I wouldn’t blame this on turnover,” Chopp said. “It’s probably the reason there was turnover.”
In his report, Mascarin said the volume of formal complaints he received – seven in all — in 2019 “was relatively large.”
“In considering the complaints, we took into account that the members of council were mostly inexperienced and that they were seeking to understand their role as elected local representatives,” Mascarin says.
“Many of the concerns raised relate to the large number of senior administrative staff that have left the employment of the county during 2019.”
The seven complaints involved three council members.
Two complaints arose from Mayor Kristal Chopp and her ripping in half of a planner’s report regarding the costs and benefits of urban poultry on Jan. 8. The council members associated with the other two complaints were not named as the filings were dismissed.
Mascarin remains disappointed about the backyard chicken episode and the fact that council accepted an apology from the mayor he deemed inadequate.
Mascarin was also disappointed that council reacted to the episode by reimbursing Chopp for lost wages (two weeks salary) and circumscribing his powers so that council has the final say on member sanctions going forward.
“To anyone who attended or watched the council meeting, it was obvious that a concentrated campaign had been orchestrated to pressure council to close the book on the issue,” Mascarin said. “In other words, ethics be damned.”
At the end of his report, Mascarin recommends that council restore his authority to impose sanctions on members who violate the county’s codes of conduct. He also asked council to consider lifting a provision which requires members of the public to attach their names to integrity complaints.
“We are cognizant that our office acts as an ethics commissioner, and we are wary of efforts to weaponize our authority,” Mascarin said.
“Having said that, we are mindful that the public has a right to make inquiries and to file requests for investigation if they believe that ethical breaches have occurred, which no amount of media noise and spin can eradicate.”