Town­ship mayor cleared in cell­phone use com­plaint

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - FRONT PAGE - wlowrie@post­media.com WAYNE LOWRIE

An in­tegrity com­mis­sioner has cleared the mayor of the Town­ship of Leeds and the Thousand Is­lands of al­le­ga­tions that he used his mu­nic­i­pally-sup­plied cell­phone for per­sonal use with­out re­im­burs­ing the tax­payer.

Com­mis­sioner Nigel Bellcham­ber ruled that Mayor Joe Bap­tista did noth­ing wrong and that he in fact re­im­bursed the town­ship for phone charges re­sult­ing from his per­sonal use.

In a re­port to town­ship coun­cil, Bellcham­ber said that Bap­tista is sup­plied a town­ship cell­phone as mayor and as a mem­ber of the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s emer­gency mea­sures team. He is ex­pected to carry the phone with him at all times in case of an emer­gency.

When elected four years ago, Bap­tista said that he pre­ferred to carry only one cell­phone and charger, and he asked town­ship staff to check the rules, Bellcham­ber said. Staff told the mayor that it was OK to use the phone for per­sonal use as long as he re­im­bursed the town­ship for charges over and above the nor­mal charges.

Bap­tista did, Bellcham­ber said. When on va­ca­tion in the United States, Bap­tista in­curred roam­ing charges and he paid the town­ship for those ad­di­tional fees, the com­mis­sioner said in his re­port.

The town­ship has a blan­ket plan that cov­ers the cell­phone bills of any staffer or coun­cil mem­ber re­quired to carry a town­ship phone, Bellcham­ber said.

He noted that Rev­enue Canada has in­di­cated that em­ployer-sup­plied phones could be re­garded as a tax­able ben­e­fit, and he rec­om­mended that the town­ship re­view its rules in light of the tax­man’s di­rec­tives.

The com­plaint about the mayor’s cell­phone use was one of six filed against coun­cil mem­bers by a sin­gle in­di­vid­ual, whom Bellcham­ber didn’t name.

Bellcham­ber said he didn’t have the author­ity to look into the five other com­plaints be­cause they were about in­ci­dents that al­legedly oc­curred in 2015, 2016 and 2017 be­fore he was ap­pointed in­tegrity com­mis­sioner in March of this year.

But he said that only one of those com­plaints in­volved is­sues that would be a vi­o­la­tion of the coun­cil’s code of con­duct. That com­plaint was about the lan­guage used by one coun­cil­lor in in­ter­nal emails among coun­cil mem­bers. If that in­ci­dent oc­curred now, it would be cause for in­ves­ti­ga­tion, Bellcham­ber in­di­cated.

Town­ship coun­cil re­ceived Bellcham­ber’s re­port this week with­out com­ment.

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