Thursday, July 18, 2024

‘I will do better’: Integrity commissioner recommends Rideau Lakes councillor’s pay be suspended

Rideau Lakes Township Coun. Paula Banks was investigated by the Integrity Commissioner for breaches of the Code of Conduct. She pleaded guilty to all accounts. – Laurie Weir photo

Paula Banks apologized for breaches of the Code of Conduct while conducting business as a councillor for the Township of Rideau Lakes.

Banks has been under investigation since January for emails and her behaviour at the council table that were “bullying and intimidating in nature,” according to the written report by Integrity Commissioner William Hunter.

The rookie councillor breached several sections of the Code of Conduct, including general principles to refrain from engaging in conduct that would bring the municipality or council into disrepute or compromise the integrity of the municipality or council. All members of council are expected to conduct themselves with decorum with respect for deputations and for fellow members and staff. All members are required to show courtesy and not distract from the business of council during presentations and when other members have the floor. All members of council shall treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation, Hunter stated.

Banks was also under investigation by the integrity commissioner for comments made during the first 10 minutes of the budget meeting on Jan. 29.

“Our personal safety and our private lives need to be respected and protected by this council and our community. After this weekend, I have realized that’s not going to happen,” Banks stated at the meeting.

“This (Grassroots) continues to put our personal safety and mental health at risk I would like this council to cover the cost of that investigation, and if there is no finding of fault, I will return the money. I would like to vote on that now please.”

Mayor Arie Hoogenboom said they were at the table to discuss budget items, and not allegations by the councillor, who asked that an investigation be made into the Grassroots group.

The mayor called it out of order and suggested a closed session meeting. If there was a physical assault, Hoogenboom suggested calling the police.

At the end of the budget meeting on Jan. 29, Banks said there was “ongoing undermining of the majority of this council,” and further stated that their safety and private lives need to be respected and protected by this council and community.

“After this weekend, I have realized that’s not going to happen. This group continues to put our personal safety and mental health at risk,” she said.

The report states that Banks further continued to interrupt the meeting agenda, alleging there was an assault in the council chambers.

On Jan. 30, Banks asked questions about when it would be appropriate for the community to ask questions about the budget.

Also, as part of the complaints against Banks, there was reference made to four emails that were circulated between nine people – three on Jan. 26 at 8:50 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 9:23 p.m. and one the following day, at 4:22 a.m.

“The facts are clear,” Hunter stated in his report.

In the first email, (Exhibit A) it contains an insult directed at a person, suggesting that she has reached a new low, and admonishes her, implying she should feel ashamed of herself.

In the second email (Exhibit B) she defends herself against accusations of lying, mentioning past losses and indicating a lack of fear of punishment. It also mentions not being afraid to speak the truth, even if it scares others.

The third email (Exhibit C) mentions a pattern of behaviour, stating that when she gets angry, she typically goes through three rants. There’s also a request not to disclose the email’s content to her husband — a fellow councillor.

The final email (Exhibit D) sent in the early morning hours the following day, Banks apologized for her language and explained that their mental health was suffering. She asked that further emails stop, expressing the need for empathy and an end to harassment.

The integrity commissioner wrote that Banks was guilty of several breaches of the Code of Conduct.

“In my opinion, she has breached Section 5.3 ii of the Code of Conduct. First, by sending emails to many persons expressing the views that are contained in Exhibits A to D, she has raised allegations that the public would find, not only confusing but apprehensive,” he wrote.

“Secondly, in the public meeting of January 29, 2024, she has raised concerns about the actions of some unnamed members of council, the possible release of confidential information and her personal safety. These statements could bring council into disrepute and compromise the integrity of the municipality or council.”

And finally, “Coming from an elected councillor, the profanity and harsh language in her emails to the recipients is bullying and intimidation. If she had made these statements privately it would have breached Section 6.10.1 of the Code of Conduct but to make them in emails, sent to a variety of persons, escalates the breach,” he wrote.

On Feb. 12, Banks apologized at a council meeting saying, “I would like to report myself as not following the Code of Conduct. I realize, there are repercussions for that, but I let down the people in Bastard and Burgess, And I’d just like to say that it won’t happen again.”

Hunter said the apology does not recognize the much broader impact of her emails, having gone to several people, not just one resident.

“Also, Councillor P. Banks does not appear to realize that these comments should not be placed on social media or emailed as these comments can be saved and shared by others.”

She then posted a statement of apology on her Facebook page, saying she was taking a month off the social media platform.

Hunter said the councillor recognizes that she used social media in an improper way.

“I trust that henceforth she will not post any comments on social media that breach the Code of Conduct.”

Hunter said in his summation of his report that a reprimand would not “serve any purpose,” and that the proceedings should make the importance of compliance with the Code of Conduct clear to the councillor.

Hunter suggested that Banks’ pay as a councillor be suspended, instead of the reprimand.

“A suspension of remuneration penalty can serve as a deterrent and send a message to Councillor P. Banks and others that compliance with the Code of Conduct is the standard expected of the municipality’s elected representatives. I therefore recommend that there be a suspension of the remuneration paid to Councillor P. Banks in respect her services as a member of council for a period of 21 days,” he wrote.

The report will be brought to council’s municipal services committee meeting on April 2 for discussion.

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