An apology and a promise to work in a more harmonious way with his peers for the sake of his electors was how Coun. Bill Gordon handled Wednesday's discussion around the integrity commissioner's report.
“I'm not going to sell out on my ideology and reasons for being here,” he said after unequivocally apologizing to Coun. Jon Main for calling him a ‘snowflake.’ “Clearly, we don't see eye to eye, but I'm going to continue to work with you. I can put that behind me and work with you without us all being buddies and chums.”
Gordon said he didn’t begrudge the process or Main’s right to use it, but he did take issue with the language ‘continued bullying and harassment.’
Then he addressed the part of the integrity commissioner’s report around language he had used about staff, stating he did not have any respect for most if not all of them.
“I'm not going to deny that that was mostly the case,” said Gordon. “That was two weeks before my hearing about the lawsuit. I had a pretty low opinion of a lot of you guys who voted to sue me. That manifested itself in that email. Jon tried to have a sidebar with me and I rebuffed it with the snowflake comment.
“I'm not making excuses, but context is important,” he added. “Is it a pattern? I would say, no.”
Gordon also gave context to the allegation of undue influence on contractors or developers that the report threw out the window.
He said that after a Zoom meeting during which residents asked questions about when the work would be done on Taylor Drive, the developer reached out to him to offer some solutions if he didn’t bring a motion to council.
Gordon said he agreed.
However, Janice Atwood-Petkovski, co-principal at Principles Integrity, said their investigation had determined no undue influence in that situation.
A rigorous question and answer session between councillors and Atwood-Petkovski ensued before council voted on the report.
Gordon asked if it was a conflict of interest for the three complainants to be participating.
Atwood-Petkovski determined that the complainants and Gordon were allowed to participate, however, he could not vote on the matter. She added that the ability for a complainant to speak had only recently been added to the legislative framework.
Gordon said he didn’t recall the no-voting rule to be the case when Coun. Cody Oschefski’s case was brought to council.
“I can only apologize,” said Atwood-Petkovski, after Oschefski confirmed that was the case. “It's possible that I misspoke. It's a relatively new amendment. It was implemented in March last year.”
Main, who attended the council meeting sporting a tongue-in-cheek snowflake tie, asked if there were training opportunities arising from this incident.
“In all honesty, this has just been incredibly embarrassing and a huge nuisance and distraction,” he said. “How do we go from here as a learning opportunity moving forward?”
Atwood-Petkovski said they could offer training, but ideally that would have to be done in person, hence after the pandemic has passed.
Main then asked about further refinement to the code of conduct.
Atwood-Petkovski said that would not be necessary as it is a pretty robust and comprehensive document.
Coun. Carole McGinn also had questions.
“Does it clearly say in here that my peers attempted as a group to get together and prior to coming to you seek to find a way to create a solution?” she said. “I want us to be working together and I don't see in the report that there was an attempt at mediation.”
Mayor Stewart Strathearn pointed out the report listed an attempt to address the issue without the involvement of the integrity commissioner.
Coun. Cher Cunningham expressed concerns around the grey areas with respect to developers and contractors reaching out to council members.
“I've had developers reach out to me,” she said. “I've sat with them and typically it's a conversation where they're asking questions. We don't typically have staff with us. We have conversations with residents around issues and at what point does that become error?”
Atwood-Petkovski admitted there is room for grey in that area.
“In our view, this fell over the line,” she added. “The councillor should have, at the point where it was getting into negotiating, engaged staff.”
When asked to sum up the message in the report, Atwood-Petkovski said, “It could be distilled down to two simple rules, do unto others as you would have them do unto you and stay in your own lane.”
After the question period had ended, each councillor was given the ability to share their thoughts on the topic.
“I do not support the way Coun. Gordon engages with staff, colleagues and on social media,” said Oschefski. “He made it clear he was running as a disrupter and he's had the most COC complaints. But he's also brought notices of motion and ideas to the table and getting stuff in the public eye, I have to appreciate that.
“I will support the recommendations, but I do think spending money on a 14-page report and a banner on the website is the biggest waste of money.”
Cunningham said she echoed many of Oschefski’s comments and expressed concerns around the language used at council. She added that she had confidence in Gordon’s ability to make a change.
Coun. Jim Downer and Deputy Mayor Mike Ross also said they fully supported the report.
Couns. McGinn and Beth Prost were, however, on the other side of the spectrum.
“So much has been said,” said Prost. “I respect the integrity commissioner’s positions, but I just don't think we should even have come this far. We're adults and we need to speak to each other.
"It's no secret there's bad blood in this council, but we have to show respect. We're here to do a job and there's no reason I can see that we can't do it at the table together. I'd like to see some mutual respect and conversations.”
Main said he wasn’t looking for an apology but for a change in behaviour.
“I will take the suggestion of following up with an informal complaint than a formal complaint,” he said. “We're going to agree to disagree, keep it clean, keep it fair and try to keep the disdain or personal differences away from the public conversation.”
Mayor Stewart Strathearn addressed the need for a code of conduct.
“It's about setting a bar for behaviour that you're going to measure yourself against and others will measure you against,” he said. “It's unfortunate this council started with an adversarial instead of collegial tone. It has intruded on this council, but we got a lot done. To have to deal with this is a colossal waste of energy. Everybody tonight said this is a learning opportunity, so learn.”
The recommendations to formally reprimand Gordon and share the report online were accepted by a majority vote.