Colleagues of a Thunder Bay, Ont., councilor are expected to discuss a integrity commissioner report who discovered that she violated the city’s control code of Conductincluding video footage that appears to show her raising her middle finger during an incident involving residents of a housing complex.
A complaint against Count. Rajni Agarwal says that on June 13 he repeatedly harassed homeowners who were doing exterior grading work.
The city’s integrity commissioner, Principles of Integrity, is responsible for receiving complaints against council members and conducting and reporting on investigations that determine whether they committed wrongdoing. In this case, he recommended that Agarwal’s pay be suspended for 30 days, or two pay periods.
Councilors will review the report on Monday night and will have 90 days to decide whether to vote in favor of the temporary pay suspension.
Is it’s not the first time The council has faced these types of decisions. Last year you voted against salary suspension for five days to former councilor Aldo Ruberto after a complaint was filed regarding their publications on social networks.
Councilors Albert Aiello and Brian Hamilton and former councilor Brian McKinnon have also faced complaints that landed on the integrity commissioner’s desk in recent years.
The integrity commissioner’s report of October 27 says: “Coun Agarwal’s behavior was far from exemplary. It was, in fact, an example of inappropriate interference by an elected official: authoritarian, harassing, invoking his status by claiming ‘ represent the city’, in order to threaten and intimidate, and improperly influence the assistance of the authorities.
“In response to their claims that both the property management and the condo board had approved the work, she escalated her tirade, yelling, pointing fingers at them, and repeatedly calling the police.”
In response, Agarwal said the report is biased and does not fully consider his version of events.
The incident in question
Agarwal, a real estate agent and developer, was first elected as an at-large councilor last fall. He previously provided property management services for the townhouse complex where the complainants live and operates his real estate business next door.
While the work being done was approved by property management, Agarwal said a trailer being used to move dirt was blocking a fire hydrant and impeding pedestrians.
She was concerned about an older woman with a walker, who she believed was walking on the path because the sidewalk was obstructed, she said.
“We need to take care of our elderly, we need to take care of our elderly, we need to take care of our disabled,” Agarwal told Breaking:. “We need to have compassion and empathy and not have the right to do things that compromise the safety of those people.”
Agarwal said he called City Manager Norm Gale. Since there were no officers working at the time, he called the police. He said his interactions with the property owners took place over two days.
Agarwal admits he “lost his cool” but says he had no intention of pointing fingers at anyone and couldn’t see the owners on the other side of the fence.
“Yes, I raised my voice and yes, I gestured towards a fence, and yes, that is against the City of Thunder Bay Code of Conduct. Did I know that at the time? No. Was I very angry? 100 percent percent,” Agarwal said.
“What I was doing in my mind was correct because I called the city manager and what has been portrayed has been a brief moment…those few moments are what I’m being punished for, which is fine.”
This was not the first time Agarwal clashed with those living in the complex. In fact, property management implemented a harassment policy in January “as a way to address County Agarwal’s pattern of behavior,” the integrity commissioner’s report says.
Integrity Commissioner Findings
Integrity principles determined that there was enough space for pedestrians to walk around the trailer and, if necessary, the operator was there at all times to move it.
The report says Agarwal submitted 159 documents in response to the complaint, but most of them were deemed irrelevant.
The biggest problem with Agarwal’s behavior was that he claimed to represent the city while telling homeowners to stop what they were doing and threatening to call the bylaw department and the police. No violation of any statute was determined.
“His attempt to invoke his status, or threat of public humiliation, to get the police to take action against the owners constitutes a flagrant abuse of authority,” the report says. “We find his conduct in giving the middle finger a shocking breach of decorum.”
The effectiveness of the system.
Under the Municipal LawMunicipalities first received the power to appoint an integrity commissioner in 2006. A decade later, the law was modified again to make them mandatory. Those who did not have their own integrity commissioner were ordered to assign those responsibilities to a commissioner from another municipality.
The effectiveness of the integrity commissioner system has been questioned, considering that councils can vote against recommendations made and are responsible for appointing paid positions in the first place, said Andrew Sancton, a municipal expert and retired political science professor at the Western University of London. Ont.
“People have questioned exactly how neutral some of these integrity commissioners are because they don’t want to alienate a large number of councilors on a particular council because they might think that… they’re not going to get re-election,” Sancton said.
There is also the question of cost, he added. Asking an integrity commissioner to take on more responsibilities means more expenses for municipalities.
While they lack final decision-making power over complaints, Sancton said that, in his opinion, that may not be a bad thing.
“I think it’s probably best left to the council. I mean, again, I emphasize that we’re not talking about anyone breaking a law here. We’re talking about them breaking a code of conduct, which is simply a statement of good things to do.” and/or bad things to avoid.
While integrity commissioners play an important oversight role, they also educate the council on the dos and don’ts of municipal representation. However, at the end of the day, “you can be as polite as you want and some councilors will still do stupid and inappropriate things,” Sancton said.