Saturday, July 20, 2024

Recommendation to suspend Coun. Paula Banks’ salary defeated by Rideau Lakes council

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 had a tearful apology for council, staff, family and friends after a recent integrity commissioner report recommended a 21-day suspension of pay as a Rideau Lakes councillor for Code of Conduct infractions.

The vote to suspend her pay was defeated by council during the April 2 meeting.

Banks said, “I acted outside the Code of Conduct,” she said. “I’m most disappointed in myself for using profanity and bullying language. I was in the wrong and bullying for any reason is not OK … I promise to do better and make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”

Coun. Sue Dunfield recalled it was Nov. 6 when council was “heckled” by people in the public seating area of the council meeting; “a member of the public stepped forward and spit on one of our councillors.”

Dunfield asked how one person’s concerns about personal safety can bring council into disrepute and compromise the integrity of council. She said she felt that council was being attacked.

“We were not the ones that attacked the public,” she said. “It was the other way around.”

Dunfield said they have strong integrity around the table, and “the public should not be debating that…or thinking that they have better moral integrity than we do. We are all human beings and we should all be respecting each other.”

She added that if one councillor has concerns about their public safety, “if anything, all councillors are affected,” she said. “We are one governing body for this municipality and what affects one member affects us all.”

Dunfield said when Banks sought support from council in closed sessions during budget discussions in January, she didn’t receive it.

“It was almost dismissed as simply killing a fly,” she said. “This concern should have been addressed in January … by declaring a closed meeting and addressing the situation … this was a situation that required compassion and support from all of council under the mayor’s leadership.”

Dunfield didn’t support the motion to suspend Banks’ pay, as “she has apologized from the heart.”

Coun. Joan Delany said there were strong feelings around the table on the issue, and they had asked for a third-party adjudicator – “just like in a courtroom.” She supported the 21-day suspension of pay.

Coun. Deborah Anne Hutchings said she was not questioned during the investigation by the integrity commissioner. She said she has also been bullied and “I don’t know how I would have acted in the same spot … This bullying has got to stop.”

She added, “We’ve got to start somewhere mending these fences and we might as well start tonight.”

Coun. Marcia Maxwell said there was an email (complaint) that wasn’t included in the report which wasn’t directed at Banks.

“It should have been included in this report so people would have a better understanding of the emails that Coun. Banks sent out. There’s no excuse for that. It was above and beyond in response and the correspondence hadn’t been directed at her.”

Maxwell said she thought the reprimand should be more, but she supported the recommendation from the integrity commissioner.

Deputy Mayor Linda Carr said they shouldn’t have to do anything more, “because she’s already been punished enough.”

Mayor Arie Hoogenboom said they’ve been through these integrity commissioner investigations before, “and we’ve always voted in favour of what the integrity commissioner has recommended … this is the safe route to go.”

He said they pay the integrity commissioner $250 an hour. “This is not a cheap undertaking,” he noted. The last one cost the township over $17,000 to go through that process.

“It’s not a process to be taken lightly,” the mayor said. “I do believe that Coun. Banks’ apology is sincere. We all have made mistakes in our lives.

“I do not believe that nothing happened in November. My position was if it was an assault, it should have been dealt with by the OPP… I don’t belittle that something happened and it was inappropriate.”

The mayor said that the standards for elected officials are higher than what is expected of the general public, and sometimes people approach council and use stronger language.

“I have to accept that as an elected official I’m going to be criticized,” he said. “I feel obligated to accept the recommendation of the integrity commissioner.”

Banks said she supported the recommendation of a 21-day suspension and “that it’s time we move on.”

When it came time for a recorded vote, it was defeated with councillors Maxwell and Delaney, as well as the mayor voting for the recommendation. Councillors Dunfield and Hutchings voted against it, while Carr abstained. Coun. Ron Pollard was absent from the meeting. A tie vote is a defeated one. Neither Banks, nor her husband, Coun. Jeff Banks had a vote on the issue.

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