Iannicca misses chance to apologize for unethical behaviour as attempt to reprimand him is shut down
Across the world yesterday, people tuned in to watch impeachment hearings against President Trump in the United States. In Peel Region, a similar saga played out.
Tensions were high in a protracted meeting of the Region of Peel Council on Thursday which culminated in an attempt to officially reprimand its chair. In a council session where the doors were twice closed to the public for in-camera discussions, all eyes were on Chair Nando Iannicca, after the publication of a report by the integrity commissioner.
Mississauga and regional Councillor Carolyn Parrish
In particular, questions hovered around a motion from Councillor Carolyn Parrish (Mississauga) aimed at taking action against the chair after he was cleared of wrongdoing, but was found to have acted unethically in his poor handling of the province’s recently completed review of regional government, while Mississauga had aggressively sought an exit from Peel.
A report by consulting firm Deloitte secretly commissioned by Peel’s former CAO David Szwarc and used by Iannicca to help keep the region from being broken up by the province, angered Mississauga councillors who were not informed of the work that was commissioned, or the behind the scenes direction by senior staff to make sure Deloitte supported keeping the region together, while Brampton and Caledon councillors who wanted the same result were happy with the Deloitte conclusions.
The integrity commissioner was called in after a complaint from Parrish about Iannicca’s role in the controversial Deloitte report as part of the regional review (read about that here). The commissioner’s investigation did clear Iannicca of any rule-breaking, though, it found his behaviour was unethical, recommending tighter controls over the chair.
The following paragraph in the commissioner’s ruling, for example, addressed Iannicca’s troubling conduct: “we… find that the behaviour engaged in by the chair raises concern around his handling of the situation, and fails to meet the standards of transparency, accountability and ethical conduct expected by the community and by his fellow members of council who have appointed him to this role.”
When, after 3:30 p.m. on Thursday, the Integrity Commissioner was eventually invited to speak, chair Iannicca hastily excused himself. Citing a conflict of interest, he left the chamber and did not return – even after his conflict was no longer relevant as council moved on from the matter. Notably, he did not address the issue at stake and did not offer an apology to council for his actions, which the report described as “raising concern.”
Usually, when municipal politicians are admonished for poor behavior by an integrity commissioner, they apologize when the ruling is first brought before council. There was nothing preventing Iannicca from doing so yesterday while also addressing his damaging behaviour, which included misleading Mississauga councillors on details of his handling of the province’s regional review. Instead, he chose to leave the chamber without returning or acknowledging the findings of the report.
“The chair, had he any moral compass, should have recognized the $1 million cost to regional taxpayers and the dire results on staff,” Parrish told The Pointer. “And [he should have] apologized for the turmoil his actions caused in the Region of Peel, while he worked diligently to keep the region together, thus saving his rich salary and additions to his pension which are based on his best 5 years in the OMERS pension system.”
Parrish was one of several councillors to ask questions of the Integrity Commissioner, with views clearly divided.
Councillor Paul Vicente of Brampton strongly defended the chair, saying that when he said he spoke for “the region” without council approval, he was simply describing that his submission to the province regarded Peel. Mayor Patrick Brown was dismissive of any questions to the Integrity Commissioner, saying that “if it [the report] says the chair did not break the code of conduct, we should accept that,” before telling council that members should not “exhaust more of [their] precious time here” by discussing the minutiae of the detailed report.
Brampton got the result it wanted, both from the Deloitte report, which recommended keeping the region intact, and from the province’s eventual decision to do so.
Few who have followed the drama will be surprised to hear Parrish and Mayor Bonnie Crombie expressed a different set of concerns, as tension increased.
Parrish tabled a motion calling for council to officially reprimand the chair, something which is detailed in the Municipal Act (2001). Offering context for various issues with Iannicca’s behaviour, the motion resolved “that the Chair of the Region of Peel be reprimanded through a Motion of Censure expressing Council’s strong disapproval of his behaviour in relation to the entire Deloitte/Watson Report affair.”
Unsurprisingly, the previous divide deepened, before the meeting was shuttered to the public to hear sensitive details. When observers were allowed to return, acting chair Karen Ras, a Mississauga councillor, had ruled that Parrish’s motion was out of order, with councillors eventually voting to back the decision and throw out Parrish’s motion in an 11 to 9 decision.
However, speaking to The Pointer after the meeting, Mayor Crombie said that the issue would be revisited, perhaps with another motion and in the region’s procedures committee. “I believe we will revisit this issue with back-up policies and procedures and we will have the opportunities to tighten up some of these procedures,” she said. “We’ll set the definition of our expectation of the chair to always act in the most ethical, transparent way. Many of us feel that the behavior lacked in all those areas and he did not conduct himself in that way. I think that we didn’t win this vote because there was a question of… there was a problem with the motion that we will go back and correct.”
One point of contention between the Integrity Commissioner and some Mississauga councillors relates to a 22-year-old rule. Referred to as ‘Resolution 97-470’, a bylaw requires the chair to receive the endorsement of council to take actions such as submitting documents representing the region’s view to the province. The Integrity Commissioner argued that, though this was the case, the bylaw was largely forgotten and did not form part of any codified rules for the chair; that is to say it would not have been highlighted during his induction as the chair at the beginning of the current council term.
However, Iannicca himself was a councillor at the region in 1997 when the bylaw was passed and later when it was re-circulated, something which Crombie believes should have informed him to act differently.
“I feel Chair Iannicca should have been aware of that [97-470, but] the integrity commissioner ruled [it] didn’t apply, which we took exception to and disagreed. [We] will probably have an opportunity to put it back in the code so that it is codified and tighten up some of the language of the expectations of the chair.”
Mayor Bonnie Crombie
It’s unclear why the integrity commissioner disregarded a fundamental rule governing the chair’s conduct, using the rationale that he might not have known about it. It’s akin to saying anyone can break the law and then claim they didn’t know about the law or that it pertained to them.
Changes to the rules for the chair of the region aside, trust on council seems to be in jeopardy. Divisions are clear between its two member cities and township, while there are lines on the Mississauga side of things too. For Mississauga the region’s largest municipality, the chair (formerly one of their own) broke their trust in order to keep the region together, acted unethically and has yet to apologize. For Brampton and Caledon, the soap-opera of internal politics around Iannicca is a waste of time and taxpayer money, as they are happy with the result they wanted and with the regional set-up. They view Iannicca’s behavior as a minor misdemeanor, if that, and any issues surrounding his oversight as a technicality.
The votes to receive the report and to throw out Parrish’s motion show a split in Mississauga too. A group of more experienced councillors, including George Carlson, Parrish and Sue McFadden, voted to reject the integrity commissioner report itself, with some of their colleagues such as Matt Mahoney and Chris Fonsenca choosing to accept it. Even on Parrish’s motion, which lost by two votes, there was a slight divide. Where Mississauga’s councillors voted it was acceptable (apart from Ras as chair and Pat Saito who did not vote), councillor Dipika Damerla chose to side with Brampton and Caledon in throwing it out.
“There will be no difficulty continuing to work on regional council,” Parrish added. “In fact, the recent votes clearly delineated the Mason-Dixon line between Brampton/Caledon and have freed Mississauga from the old adage of trying to get along. As you may have noticed today, Mississauga will be ruthlessly defending our taxpayers by questioning every budget item that effectively subsidizes Brampton and Caledon.”
With budget season rapidly approaching, it is down to members of council to try and proceed together in governing the region effectively and fairly.
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