It was standing-room only for the Jan. 14 North Stormont council meeting when integrity commissioner Tony Fleming presented his report with North Stormont’s councillor, Roxane Villeneuve, providing her response. Morin photo

BERWICK – North Stormont councillor Roxane Villeneuve was unmoved by the results of an investigation into her behaviour by integrity commissioner Tony Fleming, which found her guilty of improper conduct.

Three North Stormont councillors had lodged a complaint against Villeneuve in July of 2019.

The North Stormont Township council meeting on Tues., Jan. 14 presented the results of the investigation, in front of a standing-room only crowd at the council chambers. The complaint featured eight areas of issue. Villeneuve was found to have breached the code of conduct in five of the eight complaints.

Fleming stated in his report: “We have observed a very concerning pattern of conduct throughout this investigation: where councillor Villeneuve disagrees with a decision of council or staff, or where she feels they (as a group or individually) are working against her position, she takes matters into her own hands and often uses inappropriate behaviour and conducts herself without the decorum required of elected officials held to the highest standard.”

In a prepared statement, councillor Villeneuve said that “Although Mr. Fleming has presented such findings and I respect the role of the integrity commissioner as mandated for in the township’s code of conduct, I am likewise entitled to my position and opinions. In other words we can agree to disagree.”

She advised that she had made a detailed reply to the three councillors – Randy Douglas, Steve Densham and deputy mayor François Landry – in a 21-page document along with 230 pages of supporting documentation.

Villeneuve said she believed the complaints were the result of the abuse of the complaints process. She suggested that the com­plaining councillors had not bothered to read the actual text of the code of conduct.
Councillors accused her of soliciting people to sit in the body of the council chambers at a July 9 meeting in order to heckle a senior member of staff. Fleming said there was insufficient evidence regarding this complaint to find Villeneuve guilty.

However she was found guilty of breaking a confidentiality rule by disclosing the name of an unsuccessful candidate for a township position.

A third complaint was that she referred to the council as an old boys’ club and to it meeting in secret; that amounted to a form of harassment and she was found guilty.

She was accused of intimidation and poor treatment of others in a fourth complaint and Fleming said he found that was the case.

Another complaint was that Villeneuve had spoken to legal council who was representing a party involved in litigation against the township, something coun­cillors are not allowed to do; Fleming said she was also guilty of doing that.

The sixth complaint, stating Villeneuve had sent annoying emails to her fellow councillors, was dismissed by Fleming but he did caution all councillors to be mindful of the content and tone of any emails they shared in the future.

The seventh complaint, allgeging Villeneuve had breached another section of the code of conduct regarding releasing infor­mation to the public, was dropped by Fleming. On the eighth and final complaint, that Villeneuve had used her position to influence and intimidate township staff members, Fleming was in agreement that the complaint was valid.

The five breaches of the code of conduct come with sanctions against Villeneuve and recommendations for the entire council. Council voted to pass a resolution featuring the recommended sanctions as well as a suspension of remuneration of 30 days for Villeneuve.

The report also stated: “The Integrity Com­missioner suggests that council consider passing a resolution to prohibit councillor Villeneuve from: directing staff in any matters outside of a resolution of council; sending email correspondence to staff or to members of council for a period of six months.

During the email blackout period, councillor Villeneuve should be granted specific exceptions in order to fulfill her role as a councillor; those exceptions include: submit­ting written motions; receiving information elec­tronically from council or staff; receiving clarification related to agenda items and council business, provided that the email communication is copied to the CAO and mayor and provided that the communication is respectful and does not contain improper direction to staff.”

The integrity com­missioner further recom­mended that council amend the code of conduct to expressly prohibit members from dealing with matters that materially advance the business of the township through email to all members, which could lead to a closed meeting investigation.

Fleming’s report recom­mended that council as a whole undertake training from a qualified professional to understand the roles and responsibilities of members of council and the obligations imposed by the code of conduct and the township’s policies.

In her reply to Fleming’s findings, Villeneuve said the recommendation for her to limit her correspondence to staff and council would affect her ability to do her job. “This recommendation is conflicting to my duties under the Municipal Act and the Oath of Office I took.”

She added that she felt that the integrity com­missioner was not able to limit or alter her statutory obligations.

She agreed that the sanctions for breaking the code of conduct included a reprimand and suspension of remuneration of pay for a period of up to 90 days.

“There is no provision permitting the recom­mendations limiting my communications with staff and members of council,” she said.

Another issue raised by Villeneuve was that all three complainants were also the same three people deciding on her sanctions.

“For them now to be voting on the sanctions would have them acting as judge and jury on their own complaint, which is inappropriate and as already stated, unacceptable and unfair,” said Villeneuve.
Villeneuve said she did not believe the integrity commissioner has the power to impose sanctions and the council cannot delegate that authority. “This leaves us with a report and the findings but without legal authority to impose any sanctions,” she said. “For these reasons, I do not accept the sanctions are lawfully imposed and as such are non binding upon me.”

Villeneuve ended her statement by saying, “When I signed my Oath of Office, my commitment to you then, which remains today and going forward, is to represent you with transparency, accountability, integrity, and honesty. I have done that and will continue to do so in spite of resistance and push back I may get from not following the majority position.”

The audience at the meeting gave Villeneuve a round of applause at the end of her statement. Council then voted to follow the recommendations and sanctions.

The council was assured by representatives from the township lawyers, Ault and Ault, that they were on firm legal ground to go ahead with their resolution regarding imposing the recommended sanctions.