Hamilton City Council voted 14-0 to slap Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead with a 45-day pay suspension for continuing to harass and bully both City of Hamilton staff and other councillors.
This represents a penalty of 15 days for each serious violation of Council’s Code of Conduct, as they try to discourage him from continuing to harass and bully others at City Hall.
The Municipal Act allows Council to suspend pay for 90 days for each separate incident.
Whitehead’s pay was suspended for 30 days in November 2021 following a report regarding his years of targeted harassment of the City’s traffic safety staff and others.
Whitehead blames an ongoing serious medical condition for his behaviour, and today announced he will be taking another medical leave.
The latest Integrity Commissioners report involves three separate incidences.
Whitehead showed up in the City Clerks’ Office unannounced on November 4, 2021, to berate and intimidate the Clerk to not publish the Council agenda containing the first public Integrity Commissioners report involving his misconduct.
The next day, he left a threatening intimidating voice mail message to the City’s Executive Director of Human Resources.
During a February 9, 2022, Council meeting, sent disrespectful bullying and intimidating chat messages to Ward 15 Clr Judi Partridge.
During today’s debate, a few members of Council expressed concern that Whitehead was violating the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act by participating in the debate.
The Act contains an exception allowing that councillors “may take part in the discussion of the matter” when a council is debating Integrity Commissioner reports they are the subjects of.
“I’m struggling to understand how a councillor who has received an Integrity Commission’s report on their behaviour, it’s not a conflict for them to participate in the debate before Council?” asked Ward 9 Clr Brad Clark. “I can’t recall a councillor who’s been on the other end of an integrity commissioners report actually debating it and calling questions and proposing amendments, it seems to me to be clear conflicts.”
“I don’t disagree. And on a personal level, that’s a personal choice,” stated Mayor Fred Eisenberger in response.
“I did check with the Clerk and there’s nothing to prevent the councillor from engaging in this issue in this manner. So I think it’s regrettable that he’s chosen to do so but he has chosen to do so and that’s his right as a councillor.”
Whitehead’s engagement in today’s Council debate regarding his own misbehaviour struck all the cords of Whitehead’s typical performances of the past decade.
He blamed others for his own actions, opening, “I want to thank my council colleagues. You know, there’s an old saying I forgive my enemy. Because at the end of the day, they don’t know what they do.”
He remains upset about traffic calming on Aberdeen Avenue. He continues to falsely claim staff mislead the public regarding traffic studies regarding Aberdeen, and falsely claims staff apologized to him.
He berated staff, again, and claimed his actions are “in the context of accountability.”
Whitehead claims to be ‘fighting the good fight’, against staff.
He again specifically berated the City Clerk and the City’s Executive Director of Human Resources.
“The reality is, is that when you’re holding somebody accountable for an action … I am always the underdog … you’re doing your best to represent and hold people accountable.”
Later in the meeting, after Ward 1 Councillor Maureen Wilson and Ward 3 Councillor Nrinder Nann introduced a motion to forbid Whitehead from attending City Hall, Whitehead argued that we need to fight bullying but that he is not a bully.
“Where do you draw a line in that context of holding people accountable, versus what they call bullying? So bullying exists, and we need to fight it, no question.”
He then announced he is going back on medical leave.
“I won’t be coming back to City Hall. So this motion will not be necessary,” he stated.
The majority of Council were “uncomfortable” with sitting in judgement of their colleague, noting public pressure for them to act definitively to end Whitehead’s bullying and harassment of staff.
The Wilson/Nann motion was watered down in amendments to state that Whitehead be requested to give advance notice before attending City Hall and staff be directed to review options in response to the motion. A report will be presented at a future council meeting.
There are two remaining scheduled Council ratification meetings before August 19 when Council is expected to be declared lame-duck prior to the October 24 municipal election.
Ward 2 Clr Jason Farr noted it was “verbal harassment in both cases, not physical” and that he was “very uncomfortable when we’re talking about mental health issues in an open forum such as this, let alone the other health issues.”
He added the proposal to restrict Whitehead from City Hall was “very unorthodox. We’ve never done this before.”
Mayor Eisenberger said, “I do have some discomfort” with prohibiting Whitehead from City Hall. He acknowledged the “important requirement to provide a health and safety work environment” saying he wants a staff report.
“I would prefer that we get some advice from some of our security people and some of our HR staff,” the Mayor stated.
Clr Clark stated, “There’s an inherent power imbalance between an elected official and the civil service who work with the elected officials … When councillors walk into their office unannounced, it feels like the bosses coming in to criticize me or put me in my place or correct something that I’ve done.”
Clark said Council needs to be mindful of the legal limitations that Council cannot prevent Whitehead from exercising his rights and responsibilities as an elected official.
“We want to make sure that what we are doing is protecting our employees without getting ourselves into a legal quagmire that reverses that out and we have challenges at that point.”
Ward 11 Clr Brenda Johnson supported the amendments for a staff report, but noted if “this was any other employee with this type of background, this type of history, we would not be sitting here on this debate … this is this is case closed.”
“We all know that councillors and mayors should be held to a higher standard, but not a double standard,” Johnson stated.
Clr Partridge says her safety concerns are “very real.”
“I have not experienced this behaviour directly aimed at me before,” she stated.
“I will tell you that my concern about coming into the office is very real. As one of my colleagues mentioned, do I go to security? do I ensure that there’s always someone on the floor with me? I don’t want the confrontation.”
“Nobody should have to feel that way. And this is coming from someone who’s not easily intimidated. I just don’t want to deal with it.”
Clr Wilson said Council needed to act firmly today.
“Integrity Commissioner has found against Councillor Whitehead, and I think it is incumbent on us to uphold and affirm our confidence in our staff,” she stated. It is “our responsibility to uphold a safe workplace to ensure that that safety is afforded and accorded to all members.”
Ward 12 Clr Lloyd Ferguson said Council’s reputation is being damaged by these incidents.
“I heard a commentator … on CFRP the other day saying that Hamilton Council is terribly dysfunctional. And so why would Andrew Horwath ever want to be mayor of Hamilton?”
Clr Farr noted this report’s incidents of Whitehead bullying and harassing staff occurred in the days prior to the November 10, 2021, Council meeting on the last IC report involving Whitehead.
Farr asked Integrity Commissioner Janice Atwood-Petkovski if Whitehead has obeyed the condition passed November 10 that he only communicate with the City Manager and General Managers.
“We have not had anything of that nature brought to our attention,” Atwood-Petkovski stated.
“I guess that’s an indicator, at least, that the Councillor is respecting so far what has been his penalty to date,” Farr stated. “I can’t anticipate, especially with what he said about wanting to take a leave, that we should have any issues going forward.”
“I hope that my good friend Terry is doing okay,” Farr closed his remarks.
The Integrity Commissioners stated in their report they offered Whitehead opportunities to apologize for his misconduct. They state he declined to do so.
Clr Partridge said she would not have accepted an apology.
“There is a pattern of behaviour with this individual, and the pattern is to bully to rant to threaten and then when called out, apologize. And to me, accepting that apology is enabling the behaviour and the pattern to continue.”
Council voted 14-0 to suspend Whiteheads’ pay for a total of 45 days, representing 15 days penalty for each incident.
Production Details v. 1.1.0 Last edited: June 22, 2022 Author: Joey Coleman Edit Record v. 1.0.0 original version v. 1.0.1 correction of typo