Stouffville mayor may have breached confidentiality
Email sent to supporters disclosed dealings with ethics commissioner investigating him, requested ‘positive’ testimonials to submit to her
The mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville has asked community members to send in “testimony” detailing the “positive impact” he has made on their lives since he became mayor — ahead of an ethics report on the “CSI-style” wall that was discovered in his office washroom this year.
In an email sent by his assistant last week, Mayor Justin Altmann disclosed to his supporters, in what appears to be a breach of confidentiality, that he is under investigation by Suzanne Craig, the town’s integrity commissioner, and that she had asked him to solicit testimony about the “positive initiatives that I have enabled and supported since becoming the mayor of our cherished town.”
But Craig, best known for her efforts to bring transparency and accountability to the city of Vaughan, says all parties are “bound by confidentiality,” including keeping secret “all interactions with the integrity commissioner.”
“The office of the integrity commissioner is bound by rules of confidentiality, and cannot discuss an investigation until the report is made public to council to consider her recommendations,” Craig said.
“However, the integrity commissioner has clearly stated that any investigation she conducts, the parties are bound by confidentiality and cannot discuss any part of the investigation or interaction they have with the integrity commissioner until the investigation is brought before council for a decision.”
According to sources, the mayor received an email from the integrity com- missioner after he went public with his request to followers, telling him that he had breached confidentiality.
Craig’s final report is expected to come to council this month. The report will contain recommendations and the sixmember council will decide what action, if any, to take.
Craig launched an investigation into the mayor this summer, after staff found three large murals in Altmann’s office washroom that included large photographs and drawn lines connecting pictures of current and former councillors, staff, and members of the public (including this Toronto Star reporter.)
The mayor, who has not spoken to the Star about the wall, told local media at the time that the wall was a “mind map” and called it “normal.”
“I am so happy that I get to tell my story now. I am so happy the integrity commissioner will get to investigate me because I have had no means to tell my story,” he told Metroland Media-York Region in July. “There is nothing criminal on the wall.
Craig’s investigation was launched after a city staff member complained.
But in the email sent out to “his support system” by his assistant, Debi Patterson, Altmann asked for support in his “adversity filled journey.”
“While I have faced many challenges since joining my position as mayor of Whitchurch-Stouffville, I sincerely believe that this challenge has created the greatest opportunity to share not only my personal journey but your personal journey as well under this term of council,” Altmann said in the email obtained by the Star.
“While it is unfortunate that some have passed judgment without knowing the whole story and many have tried to impede my ability to create the inclusive community that I am trying to foster, it pleases me that this investigation provides an opportunity to compile a list of positive initiatives that I have enabled and supported since becoming the mayor of our cherished town,” he said, adding that Ms. Craig would like to: “to review and take into consideration all your personal feedback and experiences.”
Some people took his message to Facebook.
“Our mayor, Justin Altmann, needs our help. He is being investigated by the integrity commissioner; for reasons of idiocy, rumors, false truths and convoluted drama,” said a post written on a Facebook page called “We love Stouffville” that asked people to send in “their support for Justin.”
Altmann became one of the GTA’s youngest mayor when he won the Whitchurch-Stouffville seat in 2014.
When asked if he breached confidentiality, Altmann said he will not be providing “any public comments or statements (whether written or verbal) about the investigation” until it’s over.
Town councillors hired Craig as integrity commissioner in February to ensure “the codes of behaviour and ethics governing elected public officials are objectively communicated and applied. This is a critical role in maintaining public confidence in Whitchurch-Stouffville’s government,” the website states.
The following month, council instituted an updated code of conduct.
According to the complaint protocol available online, the goal of an ethics probe is to determine if an official has breached the code of conduct.
In the rules posted on the town website, confidentiality is expected while an investigation is ongoing.
“The integrity commissioner and every person acting under his or her jurisdiction shall preserve confidentiality where appropriate and where this does not interfere with the course of any investigation,” it says.
According to sources, Craig’s inves- tigation included interviews with the mayor, staff and councillors. It’s unclear why Altmann asked for his supporters to weigh in.
Sue Sherban, a former mayor at the town who has become an outspoken critic of the mayor and council’s actions this term, says she believes Altmann is trying to reduce the impact of the final report.
“I believe the mayor is trying to create a headwind before the report comes out so that his supporters know that there are other residents who see him in a positive light,” said Sherban, who was also on the mayor’s wall. “And to make it seem like what the integrity commissioner has to say (or will say) is one sided.”