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Complaints costing West Nipissing taxpayers

Investigation costs have doubled since 2019-2020, Integrity Commissioner told council
West Nipissing Council w Integrity Commish~Zoom~June 15 2021
West Nipissing's integrity commissioner, Patrice Cormier, joined the June 15 council meeting via Zoom to present his annual report

Patrice Cormier serves as the Municipality of West Nipissing’s Integrity Commissioner (IC), and during their last council meeting on June 15, Cormier presented his annual report.

“The office of the integrity commissioner was created as a process for hearing complaints regarding elected officers,” Cormier reminded council.

His report covers March 1, 2020, to February 28 of this year. Cormier took the position of IC in March 2019, with a contract extending to December 2022.

This is his second annual report for council.

Throughout these years, “numerous complaints and requests for advice and education from members of council” have crossed his desk.

Cormier also expressed his appreciation for “the highly efficient and extremely professional” staff within the municipal office “for the support that is provided to my office.”

Although numerous complaints were submitted, “no formal hearings have been held to date as all complaints have been resolved without the necessity of such hearings.”

“The complaints were either withdrawn, unfounded, or resolved amicably by the interested parties,” Cormier said.

Complaints made to the IC involve alleged breaches of conflict of interest as outlined in the Municipal Act, or an alleged infraction against the municipality’s own code of conduct.

Integrity Commissioners are also on hand to offer councillors or members of public boards advice regarding the application of those two policies.

See: Integrity Commissioner gives East Ferris pricey education

The IC has the power to investigate these complaints and make recommendations to council if a breach is discovered, “but only council can sanction one of its own members,” Cormier explained.

Cormier mentioned that during his first year with the municipality, he assumed the workload “would most likely be higher than in the next years to come. This was largely due to consultation with members of council and staff, and work related to the review and implementation of the code of conduct for members.”

This assumption was wrong, as the “volume of work has in fact increased after that initial period of education and adjustment to the new code.”

This year, “a number of complaints were received,” from both councillors and members of the public.

Of the 12 received since 2020, most have been remedied without the need for sanctions, although three cases remain open, which Cormier continues to investigate.

Cormier’s report details the annual cost for the IC’s work, which has almost doubled from the previous year. In 2019-2020, the municipality spent $12,306. This past year, that cost increased to $24,030.

See: City spends one third of its Integrity Commissioner budget on single case

Councillor Christopher Fisher asked if that increase was anticipated in the municipal budget.

West Nipissing’s director of corporate services and treasurer, Alisa Craddock, explained that the IC fees are not anticipated under the legal fee’s budget line, but rather the section for professional fees, which was allocated $25,000 for 2021.

“I hoped that it would have been better news pertaining to the involvement of our IC regarding complaints,” Mayor Joanne Savage said.

 “Because at the end, it is the taxpayers that bear the cost.

About the Author: David Briggs

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering civic and diversity issues for BayToday. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
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