Mississauga Integrity Commissioner won't say why he didn't probe harassment allegations by Karen Ras; Council puts Ron Starr on leave, demands investigation
After allegations Mississauga Councillor Ron Starr keyed former Councillor Karen Ras’s vehicle, council voted Wednesday to request Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze investigate; the veteran council member was also directed to take a leave of absence, in a unanimous decision.
The CBC reported Ras stepped down last week, resigning her council position, due to harassment by another councillor and shortly after, TorStar reported Ras identified Starr as the alleged vandal. Ras alleges her Kia Sportage was vandalized eight times in the City Hall parking lot between mid 2019 and April 2021.
Ras told reporters security cameras were installed in April after she complained to City security staff. On April 13, 2021 the cameras recorded a man using keys to gouge two scratches across the vehicle, she alleged to the media. It’s unclear if Starr is identified in the video.
Starr did not respond to The Pointer and has remained silent on the allegations.
Peel Regional Police has said charges were not laid after conducting an investigation.
According to CBC, Ras turned to the City’s Integrity Commissioner in late September. Swayze declined to investigate, according to Ras, who told media the integrity commissioner cited protocol that prevents him from investigating once police are involved in a matter.
According to Section 223.8 of the Municipal Act, which establishes the rules municipal integrity commissioners are supposed to follow, a commissioner is to suspend an investigation if criminality might be involved, and “the Commissioner shall immediately refer the matter to the appropriate authorities and suspend the inquiry until any resulting police investigation and charge have been finally disposed of…”. This does not prevent the integrity commissioner from resuming their suspended investigation once the police investigation has concluded, even if charges are laid. The integrity commissioner is then expected to review whether or not the City’s code of conduct was violated by the subject of the complaint.
Ras reportedly asked Swayze to conduct an investigation, to no avail.
The Pointer reached out to Swayze for an explanation about why he did not take up an investigation to determine if Ras’s allegation involved any violation of the City’s code of conduct, which is what integrity commissioners are expected to enforce.
Swayze said he has “no comment”.
After details of her allegations were released by Ras via the media, Mississauga Council passed a resolution for Swayze to conduct an investigation into the matter. In the same motion, Council requested Starr take a leave of absence until the investigation is completed and the report is presented in a special council meeting February 9.
The allegations were made public after Ras stepped down as Ward 2 Councillor on January 28.
Mississauga Councillor Ron Starr will take a leave of absence.
(Photo from The Pointer files)
In her resignation letter she explained, “When there are workplace issues, as councillors, we do not have the avenues necessary to have them dealt with appropriately,” she wrote. “I sincerely hope that efforts to strengthen Municipal Codes of Conduct are accelerated. These changes are long overdue.”
At the time of her resignation The Pointer asked Ras to elaborate but she declined to comment.
She told reporters this week, “The vandalism wasn’t the only factor, but it was a big factor… . At some point as I have to set the example for my children, that I’m not going to take this and I’m not going to subject myself to any more behaviour.”
Ras told The Pointer other factors including a new job opportunity and personal matters also played into her decision to resign.
Wednesday, Council also decided to appoint former long-time Councillor Patricia Mullin to replace Ras, instead of holding nominations for the appointment or a by-election.
Mayor Bonnie Crombie voted against the appointment of Mullin citing the move was undemocratic.
“I feel strongly that I wanted to follow the same process we had in place for councillor [Jim] Tovey when he passed,” she told council. “I think there are a lot of groups that are interested, a lot of individuals expressed their interest and everyone should have the opportunity, notwithstanding Pat Mullin was an outstanding Councillor, and will serve those residents very well. I just thought on a fairness and equity basis, that we should open it to everyone before deciding on her.”
In 2018, Council decided to select a new councillor to replace former Ward 1 Councillor Jim Tovey when he passed away unexpectedly. During that process, candidates completed the nomination form with 25 endorsements from eligible Mississauga voters. Candidates then told council members why they were qualified and council voted on a candidate who filled in until the municipal election later that year.
The by-election option would have been completed over the next few months at a cost to taxpayers of $300,000.
According to the motion presented Wednesday, council believe Mullin will be a good temporary councillor since she served the Ward for 29 years, and is familiar with the role.
It’s unclear if the integrity commissioner investigation request will be accepted by Swayze, or if he will be able to report back on his findings next week, if he does the probe.
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