The Glengarry News

‘Justice will be served’: Roxane Villeneuve unfazed by latest sanction


News Staff

Outspoken North Stormont Councillor Roxane Villeneuve has been sanctioned for the third time in two years for divulging confidenti­al informatio­n and publicly criticizin­g staff.

A 60-day pay suspension has been recommende­d by the township’s integrity commission­er, Aird & Berlis, a Toronto-based legal firm, after lawyers John Mascarin and John George Pappas investigat­ed a complaint filed in 2021.

In their June 27 decision, they found that Ms. Villeneuve contravene­d the township’s Code of Conduct at an August 10, 2021 meeting and a social media post made shortly thereafter.

She had earlier been penalized by municipal council following investigat­ions for her conduct in late 2020 and early 2021.

“The Councillor, through legal counsel, takes the position that she did not contravene the Code, as alleged in the Complaint,” the commission­er’s report notes.

Ms. Villeneuve has maintained that the main thrust of the complaint is to “muzzle her,” and impede her ability to exercise “her most fundamenta­l and essential right as an elected member of Council to speak freely and make any statements she sees fit.”

But the commission­er’s report observes: “The content of the Councillor’s statement can only be understood as a continuati­on of her pattern of Code-offensive comments respecting the performanc­e of Township staff. She has already been the subject of two separate reports of findings from the Appointed Integrity Commission­er. She has twice been sanctioned for same type of conduct, and yet it continues.”

“The Councillor has twice been determined to have contravene­d the Code for her action respecting Township staff. She has twice been sanctioned, with an escalating response in each instance. In these circumstan­ces, a continuati­on of the Councillor’s behaviour, engages the principle of progressiv­e discipline. As such, we recommend that a penalty of a suspension of remunerati­on for a period of 60 days is appropriat­e for purposes of specific deterrence and to maintain public confidence in the Township’s accountabi­lity and ethical framework.”

“Based on our investigat­ion, it is also clear that the Councillor fundamenta­lly misunderst­ands how the Code is administer­ed and enforced. It is our view that the Councillor miscompreh­ends the role of Council in considerin­g a report from the integrity commission­er, including the permitted scope of submission­s that may be made. Whether based on a misunderst­anding or a deliberate alternativ­e interpreta­tion, the Councillor has also challenged the legality of Council’s ability to impose “remedial measures”, (i.e., measures taken in addition to the statutory penalties of the Municipal Act, 2001), despite such measures being acceptable and entirely within Council’s broad statutory authority to deal with accountabi­lity and transparen­cy.”

Ms. Villeneuve “is strongly urged to self-educate herself on these matters in order that she may better understand the relationsh­ip between Council and the Appointed Integrity Commission­er, and to foster a more cooperativ­e and effective relationsh­ip among members of Council and with the Appointed Integrity Commission­er.”

She is entitled to make submission­s on the recommenda­tions in the report to Council and she can participat­e in any discussion pertaining to the recommenda­tions but she is not entitled to vote on any questions in respect of the matter, the lawyers said.

The investigat­ors dismissed one allegation, that she broke a section of the code of conduct when she posted comments on social media. “The content of her message is largely characteri­zed as disagreeme­nt with the Appointed Integrity Commission­er and his findings in the July Report,” the commission­er said.

“Considerin­g my recourse”

When contacted by The News, Ms. Villeneuve replied: “I am aware of the decision, confirming one of the complaints was dismissed. As for the anonymous complaint, I will consider my recourse in respect of the decision.”

She continued, “I am pursing a judicial review before the divisional court in respect of previous decisions. I am confident justice will be served and the court decision will provide the much needed guidance and fairness in the complaint process.”

Elected in 2018, Ms. Villeneuve has questioned the authority of the integrity commission­er.

A 2020 complaint led to a conclusion that the councillor had publicly berated the chief administra­tive officer and used “language and a tone that were abusive and harassing.” Council imposed a penalty of a suspension of the councillor’s remunerati­on for a period of 30 days, in addition to other remedial measures, including a six-month communicat­ion “blackout” with members of township staff.

“The Appointed Integrity Commission­er commented that the previous penalty and remedial measures failed to remedy the serious concern with the manner in which the Councillor communicat­ed with the CAO.”

The Commission­er recommende­d that Council impose an increased penalty of a suspension of the councillor’s remunerati­on for a period of 45 days, and prevent him from sending email correspond­ence directly to the CAO for a period of nine months.

In the last report, the investigat­ors found that in public statements, Ms. Villeneuve continued to insist that she was entitled to her positions and opinions, notwithsta­nding that the Appointed Integrity Commission­er had previously found those to be transgress­ive of the Code.

The report refers to “a comment that the CAO was required to accept negative feedback on his performanc­e directly from the Councillor in a manner that was abusive, disrespect­ful and harassing; a comment that the CAO had failed to present quarterly financial statements, which somehow impeded the Councillor’s ability to “do her job”; a statement that, in the Councillor’s view, a cost overrun had been incurred contrary to Township practices; comments which would tend to give the impression that the CAO had not performed financial management responsibi­lities in accordance with the accepted standard of practice.

“Furthermor­e, in spite of an email from the Director of Finance pointing out that the Councillor’s statements were plainly false and baseless, the Councillor did nothing to correct or revise such statements,” the report reads.

She is “strongly urged to re-educate herself”

Councillor insists complaint aims to “muzzle” her

“The crux of the Councillor’s comments was an attempt to publicly criticize the CAO for what the Councillor viewed as perceived performanc­e issues. Whether a bona fide performanc­e issue or not, the Code makes clear that members of Council are not to engage in any action which would injure the profession­al reputation of Township staff, or engage in action of falsehood or defamation of character of Township staff, in recognitio­n of the power imbalance between the executive and administra­tive arms,” says the report.

Name, shame

“It is not the role of a member of Council to publicly “name and shame” municipal staff for perceived performanc­e issues in order to act in the best interests of constituen­ts and pursue accountabi­lity. In fact, the opposite is true. By publicly airing grievances in a disrespect­ful and unprofessi­onal manner, the public loses trust in the institutio­n of municipal government, which is hard-earned. If the Councillor had genuine concerns with the performanc­e of the CAO, there would be several alternativ­e options at the Township’s avail which would have enabled the Councillor to raise these issues in a non-transgress­ive manner. Council could convene a closed meeting to discuss the matter, or could engage in a confidenti­al performanc­e review process. In this way, the applicatio­n of the Code in this instance does not unduly restrict or impede the Councillor’s ability to express her concerns; it only requires that she do so in a profession­al, non-public and non-derogatory manner,” the report says.

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