.............Update Wednesday February 13th, 2008......................
The following is an article written by Karen Best of the Dunnville Chroncile, dated Wednesday February 13th, 2008;
A bylaw protecting council members while acting in an official capacity will save a councillor legal costs. Haldimand County taxpayers will pay legal fees incurred by Coun. Buck Sloat when he answers to an assault charge in an Ontario court.
Under a bylaw passed by county council in 2002, council members, county employees and board members will be indemnified for actions or omissions made while acting in good faith on behalf of the county. After Sloat notified him about the legal matter, chief administrative officer Don Boyle forwarded the request for coverage of legal fees to the county solicitor. In turn, the lawyer provided an opinion that stated this case fell under the bylaw and legal fees should be covered by the municipality.
The incident occurred during a break in a council committee meeting on county property while Sloat was fulfilling his role as a representative of the public, said Boyle. As such, his fees will be paid by the county.
In January, a justice of the peace charged Sloat with assault after Jeff Parkinson requested a charge be laid. The Delhi resident alleged Sloat grabbed his shoulder, pulled out his recording device out of his pocket and dropped it to the ground. This incident has not yet gone before a court of law.
Council did discuss paying Sloat's legal fees in a closed session where there was lots of discussion but no vote could be taken, said Boyle. The bylaw superseded any vote but there was a consensus of council in support of payment, he added.When Mayor Marie Trainer asked for coverage of her legal fees in 2005, council reviewed the circumstances at that time and felt she did not act in good faith or in the best interests of the county, said Boyle.As a result, her request did not fit into the bylaw, he added.
Hind sight is 20/20 and it's unfortunate how that played out, but now council needs to move forward and support these individuals, said Boyle.
Trainer hired a lawyer after her former administrative assistant complained about harassment in the workplace in 2003 and 2004. Council paid for the assistant's legal fees but not the mayor's.After receiving a consultant report on the incident, council decided the Mayor did harass her assistant.
Boyle said the legal opinion on Sloat's situation made sense. Life in public office and in the public realm is not always easy and the municipality should stand behind people who are doing their best in those roles, he said.Sloat appeared in court on Feb. 6 and his case was held over to March 5 to set a trial date.
A few interesting points that Karen made here. The first and most obvious is that "council did" in fact have "lots of discussion" of this issue "behind closed closed doors". The second is that Dan Boyle himself stated that the "consensus" of council was in support of the payment on Sloat's behalf. I do believe that the term for a consensus behind closed doors is "drawing straws". The third was that this bylaw 235/02 "supersedes "any" vote by council.
Isn't it amazing that Councillor Sloat according to council and the CAO of Haldimand County was "acting in good faith", and yet the Mayor was "not" "acting in good faith" in August of 2005. Regardless, the Mayor's charge was of an "internal" one at the time that council "voted" against paying her lawyers fees, the alleged charge against Sloat is a "criminal charge". A vote actually by the words of the CAO of Haldimand County cannot take place! The employee that laid the "alleged harassment" charge against the Mayor "was" indeed covered under this bylaw 235/02 long before the employee even went further with a court case.
It is interesting when I picked up the minutes of the February 4th, 2008 Council Meeting, there is no reference to a "Disclosure of Pecuniary Interest" by Councillor Sloat. According to the minutes Councillor Sloat was in fact in the "closed session" when this was being discussed in length. According to the "public" minutes of that meeting, it was Councillor Sloat that moved to adjourn the meeting.
Maybe the Mayor needs to demand that she be paid for her lawyers fees as it seems the county was wrong in the fact that they cannot supersede their own bylaws. But if I am not mistaken it was the County Lawyer that advised Council on this issue. But does that make it "legal"? Now in saying that, I would hope to God that Council knows that they cannot supersede their own bylaws!
Could this be Haldimand County's first "investigation" into Closed Door Meetings?
...............Update Wednesday February 13th, 2008........................
On January 9, 2008 Councillor Buck Sloat was charged with assault as a result of a private complaint filed against the Councillor. The charge stems from an allegation that Councillor Sloat assaulted an individual at the County Offices while on a break from a Council meeting in August, 2007.
On January 31, 2008 Councillor Sloat notified the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) that he would be seeking legal assistance from the County Solicitor as the charge was as a direct result of him carrying out County business in good faith. The CAO informed the County Solicitor of the Councillors notification and requested an opinion as to whether it was appropriate for the County to cover the legal representation.
It was decided that legal representation should be provided based on By-law No. 235/02, being a by-law to provide for the legal indemnification of Employees, Councillors or Members of Local Boards of Haldimand County. The by-law applies to any act or omission alleged to have occurred on or after January 1, 2001. The purpose of the by-law is to indemnify and save harmless Employees, Councillors or Members of Local Boards, in respect of acts or omissions done or made by these individuals, in good faith, in his or her capacity, including acting in the performance of any statutory duty on behalf of the County.
County Council’s decision in 2002 to pass By-law 235/02 ensured that public servants, exercising their duties in good faith, would be protected from personal and financial risk from claims and actions with respect to matters arising out of County business. FOR FURTHER INFORMATION, please contact Don Boyle, Chief Administrative Officer, 905-318-5932 Ext. 220.
..................Update Monday February 11th, 2008................
I attended the council meeting today to hear Toby Barrett speak to Council regarding Land Claims issues, while we were waiting a few of us were having a very interesting conversation regarding this article. Now according to Councillor Grice I was wrong in stating that Council even needed to vote on whether Councillor Sloat would be represented by the County Lawyer or not.
Apparently By law #235/02 that came into effect in 2002 basically states that employees and Council members are covered for the use of the County Lawyer. I did have this document in my hands but I gave it to someone to look into for me.
Now to tell you the truth I am quite confused here. As I stated in my article, Council voted 6-0 to "Not" cover Mayer Trainers Lawyer in the alleged harassment case. So in order to do that one, Council would have had to "repeal" this By law #235/02.
I have sent Councillor Grice an e-mail asking for clarification on this information. I will up date you when I receive an answer.
At the Council meeting February 4th, 2008, council voted 6-0 in favour of having the County Lawyer represent Councillor Buck Sloat. Councillor Sloat appeared in the Cayuga Courthouse Wednesday February 6th, 2008, with the County Lawyer and Councillor Grice at his side.
To this date there has been no open vote or resolution/motion stating that this even took place. So here we go once again......."Behind Closed Doors"........
I am sure by now that some are saying, my god Donna you certainly have a problem with "closed door meetings"! You would be right on the money on that one!
I don't really have a problem with a member of council being represented by the county lawyer if in fact the problem is of an "official" Haldimand County Matter. But when a council member is charged under the Criminal Code, that is a whole new ball game!
Let's take a little walk down history lane. Let's revisit the Mayor's internal investigation regarding alleged harassment. This was never a "court case", this was a case of council voting to spend $25,000.00 dollars on a consultant, and voting 6-0 against the county lawyer representing the Mayor. Mayor Trainer paid her own bill!
So you may ask what is so different about this case with Councillor Sloat? Well when you find the answer please let me know because I am sure interested in the logic of this council!
My understanding is that unless an item is in the budget or is voted on by council as a resolution/motion, it is actually illegal for the County to spend our money. As this is not a budgeted item, and there is no resolution/motion is this legal? Again if you have the answer I am very interested to hear it. This money for the County Lawyer will come out of what is called the "emergency fund".
Maybe this is just an example of a "two tiered" Council. Or maybe this is a case of what's good for the goose is "not" good for the gander. Regardless of what it is, we will all have our own opinion on this matter.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
.............Update Wednesday February 13th, 2008......................