London’s 2014 cleanup of its scandal plagued City Council suffered a serious setback last week as it was learned that Mayor Matt Brown and Ward 5 Councillor Maureen Cassidy had an inappropriate sexual relationship with each other.
Cassidy resigned the ceremonial title of Deputy Mayor. Both have taken unpaid leaves of absence, saying they are focusing upon their families at this time. Neither have resigned from their elected offices.
The fallout of the scandal is underway at London City Hall with a motion expected to ask for an Integrity Commissioner investigations, and some saying the Mayor has lost the morale credibility needed to lead the City of 366,000 residents.
At the root of why this is a major scandal is London’s historic 2014 municipal election during which Londoners – fed up with a Council that became a provincial embarrassment following a series of scandals, most famously the Billy T’s illegal meeting and Mayor Joe Fortana’s conviction for defrauding taxpayers as an MP – elected new Councillors to 11 of 14 seats.
Mayor Brown was elected Mayor with 57.75% in a 15 candidate race with no incumbent. (Mayor Fortana being a convict). Brown’s campaign focused upon integrity and accountability.
Brown was elected because he was known as a reformer on Council and people put their faith in him to restore their confidence in City Hall. By getting himself into an affair scandal, he’s shattered that trust and broke the only promise that mattered.
Following the revelations, the mayor’s chief of staff is being reported as resigning.
The scandal is noteworthy provincially because London’s Council is being watched for hopes that it is possible to restore public confidence and integrity to a long-plagued Council.
What’s Next and The Municipal Act
London Council appointed an Integrity Commissioner early in this term, and there are multiple calls for the Integrity Commissioner to investigate the scandal.
The powers of an IC are set in Section 223 of The Municipal Act and while broad – for example, they have can issue summons under The Public Inquiries Act – they are limited to only investigating violations of Code of Conduct written by the Council which appoints them.
London’s Council Code of Conduct (Starts on Page 29 of this PDF) states:
Rule 2 – General Rules
2.1 Members shall serve and be seen to serve their constituents in a conscientious and diligent manner.
2.2 Members should be committed to performing their functions with integrity and to avoiding the improper use of the influence of their office, and conflicts of interest, including apparent conflicts of interest
2.3 Members shall not extend in the discharge of their official duties, preferential treatment to family members, organizations or groups in which they or their family members have a direct or indirect pecuniary interest.
2.4 Members are expected to perform their duties in office and arrange their private affairs in a manner that promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny.
Mayor Brown and Councillor Cassidy’s conduct undermines public confidence, the Integrity Commissioner can choose to investigate the matter, but is not required to. City Councillor Josh Morgan is planning to move a motion asking for an investigation.
This will be a major test for Integrity Commissioner Gregory Stewart, of the law firm Donnelly Murphy, who is IC for a number of small municipalities in Middlesex, Oxford, and Perth counties.
Integrity Commissioner Findings and Maximum Sanction
Integrity Commissioners findings are released in a public report, which is then considered by the municipal council. Based upon the report, Section 223.4(5) gives Council the power to impose a maximum penalty of 90 days pay.
The Mayor cannot be removed from Office.
Limiting Mayoral Powers
In late 2013, Toronto City Council stripped Mayor Rob Ford of many of his powers by, among other things, cutting the mayor’s office budget, giving responsibility for the mayor’s staff to the deputy mayor, removing Ford’s designates from the budget committee, and appointing the deputy mayor to chair certain committees.
London Council’s options are limited to following Toronto’s lead, but not anything further. A formal censure, a gesture with no statutory consequences, is not prevented by the Municipal Act. (Censure being separate from a reprimand under Section 223.4)
With the Mayor on a voluntary leave of absence. Section 242 states a Council can appoint an acting mayor to fulfill all the duties proscribed in sections 225 and 226.
Leave of Absence
Mayor Brown and Councillor Cassidy are taking voluntary unpaid leaves of absences. Section 259(1)(c) states “The office of a member of council of a municipality becomes vacant if the member is absent from the meetings of council for three successive months without being authorized to do so by a resolution of council”.
Mayor Brown was last present, according to the minutes page of the City of London, at a June 9 council committee meeting. This means, unless Council passes a resolution granting further leave, the Mayor must attend on or before the scheduled August 30 council meeting.
Councillor Cassidy attended the June 14 council meeting, and must attend another council on or before the scheduled September 13 meeting.
The Municipal Act does not provide for much that a council can do, outside of imposing penalties following an integrity commissioner report, in response to the misbehaviour of a member of council.
The true consequence for both Brown and Cassidy is the lose of respect and standing resulting from this affair, and the very high likelihood they’ll be removed from office for failing to live up to their campaign promise of bringing integrity back to City Hall.