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Midland councillor off the hook after peers reject integrity commissioner's findings

Integrity commissioner found there was evidence that parties held at Cody Oscheski's home didn't adhere to diligent social distancing
Coun. Cody Oschefski, right, is pictured at a council meeting earlier this year. MidlandToday file photo

Council rejected an integrity commissioner's recommendation to reprimand a peer for breaching the code of conduct by holding parties throughout the spring and summer during the pandemic.

In a recorded vote Wednesday night, only Coun. Jon Main voted in favour of the report while the rest of council voted against formally reprimanding Coun. Cody Oschefski for breaching the town's code of conduct.

"I think this is a good learning exercise," said Main. "I have to concur with the findings that this is a code of conduct violation. In the grand scheme of things, it's maybe a one out of 10."

Deputy Mayor Mike Ross agreed it was great learning experience.

"I probably haven't done the best job either," he said. "I've done everything I thought I was to do to follow the rules, but it's tough out there. If it's not us that's leading by example, who is? We need to be held to a higher standard.

"I believe the highest standard of all is election day and we will be received or elected or not elected based on how we behaved today and tomorrow," added Ross. "That is indeed the highest standard we could ask the public to adhere to."

Others were less supportive of the findings.

"What I read in the report, (Oschefski) did hold himself to a higher standard, by bringing hand sanitizer and offering masks," said Coun. Cher Cunningham, who noted Oschefski seemed conscious of his actions by not posting photos to Facebook.

"I see him treating a yard like a public place instead of a private place. The average parties I've been watching have not been holding to that."

Coun. Bill Gordon said it's clear from the language of the town's code of conduct that all councillors have agreed to be held to a higher standard. However, he said he thought it was a dangerous precedent to interpret the wording of the document in a loose manner and find someone in "breach of the spirit of the code of conduct."

"The subjectivity of this code of conduct makes it the perfect weapon to further personal grievances knowing that any allegation, even mildly upheld, could easily trigger a breach of the spirit of our code of conduct," he said.

"This weaponization of the code of conduct is wrong. It only serves to divide the council and takes us away from the work we have to do. It seems this weapon can be wielded by anyone who holds a grudge. There's a cost to the ratepayers of the community. There are also costs to the person who has to sit here and smile and work with his peers who judge him."

Earlier in the evening, during the question and answer period, Main asked representatives of the integrity commissioner about just that.

"Can you tell us what process you go through to determine if a complaint is legitimate or vexatious?" he said.

Janice Atwood-Petovski, co-principal, Principals Integrity, answered.

"Frivolous and vexatious is a legal standard," she said. "it is a bit of a high task. It means it's absolutely unmerited. Although, it gets casually tossed around is a really high bar. We are professional investigators and we do attach weight to evidence as all investigators do."

Further, she said, the councillor himself didn't dispute any of the events.

"Certainly the photos speak for themselves," said Atwood-Petovski, talking about the images in evidence and the number of cars noted on the street in tandem with the gatherings. "Yes, we don't have GPS and we're not doing a police investigation, but we're quite capable of looking at the evidence."

The integrity commissioner, she said, felt there was plausible photographic evidence, which indicated there wasn't diligent social distancing.

"It wasn't simply a matter of counting vehicles," said Atwood-Petovski. "It was a balance of probabilities we looked at. The only issue he disputed was he was diligently trying to ensure social distancing."

During his two minutes of talking to the council and those watching the meeting, Oschefski said he felt he hadn't done anything wrong.

"I do understand we're held to a higher standard," he said. "I do believe I took the gatherings to a higher standard in terms of safety. I did provide masks to those who wanted them. I had hand sanitizers in different locations all over my yard. I had only 25 people in my backyard at a time when we were allowed 100. I did nothing to encourage the public to party."

Oschefski said he also called the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit and verified that all his gatherings were within the law and recommendations.

"I do feel that the complaint was submitted not for the greater good or betterment of the community but to publicly shame me and make my life less comfortable," he noted. "This is a very personal matter. I don't feel a dispute with a neighbour should be on council agenda."