Councillor’s seeks judicial guidance to address alleged abuses of office and clarify the limited powers of the head of council. Mayor exposes municipality to litigation by refusing to recognize her conflict and recuse herself from an integrity proceeding.
FORT FRANCES – POLITICS – Today Councillor Douglas W. Judson made the following statement:
“On September 3, 2021, I instructed my lawyer to commence a proceeding against Mayor June Caul in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. I had hoped to address the matters it concerns out of public view. However, as a result of the Mayor’s refusal to acknowledge her conflict and recuse herself from the Integrity Commissioner proceeding concerning me on Monday, it is now necessary to share the details publicly.
“I commenced this court application after repeated abuses of office by the Mayor, over several months. These actions have undermined the democratic function of Council and the separation of municipal administration from political interference. The events of concern include occasions where the Mayor acted beyond her lawful authority to unilaterally direct advisors and consultants to the municipality, took steps to usurp and undermine the role of staff and management, and obstructed my ability to perform my duties without her interference, bullying, and abuse.
“The Mayor has falsely claimed, on multiple occasions and in writing, to have been appointed or acting as CAO of the municipality. The Municipal Act, 2001specifically prevents her from holding this role or from exercising the authority of a member of our administration. Council has delegated no additional roles to the Mayor beyond what is set out in the Act.
“Over the summer, the Mayor was given several opportunities to acknowledge her errors and resolve this situation. She has been asked to retract false and malicious attacks against me that she emailed to all of Council and senior staff, and to respect the limited role of her office under the Act and her inability to interfere with or bar councillors’ requests to administration. She has refused to do so.
“While the Mayor now claims to have been exercising her role as ‘chief executive officer’ of the municipality, judicial inquiries have concluded that the head of council’s role as CEO of the municipality under the Act is very limited, provides virtually no authority in the municipality, and is not analogous to a corporate CEO. Mayors have no role in the administration, no authority over councillors, and no ability to direct municipal staff. Being ‘CEO’ is no excuse for her abusive communications.
“Instead of recognizing her errors, the Mayor has clung to the notion that she has the authority to obstruct and berate councillors and to unilaterally order staff and professional advisors of the municipality without direction from Council. Instead, she has demanded that the municipality retain a law firm to defend her, at taxpayers’ expense, and has manufactured false accusations that I harassed a member of staff by asking for municipal records to which I am entitled.
“These abuses continued after she was served with my Notice of Application. On September 17, the Mayor used her powers to call a special meeting of Council with no information on the agenda for – what we would learn later – was for the singular purpose of seeking further coverage of her legal fees in this proceeding. The Mayor did not declare a pecuniary interest in this meeting. As chair, I ruled this item out of order based on the improper process and insufficient information before Council to declare interests or move into closed session. Had I allowed the meeting to proceed, the Mayor would have been in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.
“Frankly, I am disturbed that a member of Council would call a secret meeting to get the municipality to pay their bills. Section 448 of the Act already requires the municipality to cover the legal fees for any member of Council, provided they have acted “in good faith”. The only foreseeable basis for seeking a broader indemnity than that would be if the member had received legal advice that may not have met this standard. The Mayor claimed she called the meeting on the advice of her lawyer.
“These are serious issues that have strained the function of Council and placed municipal staff in a difficult position. Unfortunately, the rest of Council has declined to intervene to address the Mayor’s misconduct.
“As a councillor, my ability to advance the priorities of my constituents is impeded so long as the Mayor refuses to acknowledge the limitations of her office and to refrain from interfering with administration. I have been left with no other choice but to seek judicial guidance to confirm the proper and limited role, authority, and powers of the head of council under the Act. The application I have commenced does not seek any financial damages, but declaratory orders interpreting Council’s governing law and policies. I am funding my own legal representation.
“It is my hope that this proceeding will assist municipal officials in their understanding of the structure of local government in Ontario and the roles of its participants. The application I have filed seeks to redress these local issues, but also to strengthen the democratic function and understanding of municipal government. I expect the court will affirm that Ontario’s municipalities are constituted in a ‘weak mayor’ system. Our laws confer on the Mayor no administrative role in the municipality, no control over councillors, and no right to unilaterally order municipal staff or act for the municipality without Council’s prior authorization.
“Of immediate concern, the Mayor’s refusal to recuse herself during Monday’s appearance by the Integrity Commissioner is further evidence of her animus towards me. Her unwillingness to set aside her personal interest in penalizing me is exposing the municipality to increased litigation risk and expense. She wants to sanction me, regardless of the costs to taxpayers her participation will create. In a quasi-judicial sitting of Council, the standard for recusal is far more restrictive than whether the member has a pecuniary interest, but whether they present a reasonable apprehension of bias. She knows this.
“As this matter is before the court, I have no further comments at this time.”