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Report: Cobalt mayor breached code of conduct

'The investigation was in response to five requests from the public for an integrity commissioner to review the actions'
20171130 cobalt sign on railway station turl
File photo by Jeff Turl.

COBALT - E4m Integrity Commissioner consultant Colleen Hannigan has presented her findings on the actions of Cobalt Mayor Mita Gibson when Gibson had a letter sent to Cobalt Paul Penna Public Library Board members on January 18 advising them they were dismissed.

The report concluded that Gibson's actions were in contravention of the town's Code of Conduct.

The findings also reviewed and reported on the mayor's action when she delivered a hard copy to the acting CEO/librarian and directed her to send the letter to the board members via email.

However, no penalty is being recommended because, at the time of the action, Gibson had only been in the position for 64 days and had no previous municipal council experience.

Hannigan presented her findings at Cobalt's March 21 council meeting and said she wanted it to be seen as a lesson “for everyone around the table."

The investigation was in response to five requests from the public for an integrity commissioner to review the actions, she stated.

Hannigan stated that the letter "was sent without knowledge of council to the Town of Cobalt Public Library board."

Hannigan reviewed the event, stating, "This letter followed the council meeting of January 17 where council deferred the appointment of a library board for the 2022 to 2026 term of council. Council deferred the decision until they had time to review and update the outdated original bylaw which established the public library in the first place, and the subsequent bylaw setting out the size of the public library board."

Hannigan continued, "The day after the meeting the mayor wrote the letter to advise previously appointed public library board members that their term was over, and a new establishing bylaw along with board member appointments would be forthcoming. The letter stated they should stop board activities immediately and turn in their keys."

Hannigan noted, "Mayor Gibson advised at a subsequent council meeting that she sought legal and integrity commissioner advice before acting. She believed her action to be in accordance with the advice received."

At that point in her report, Hannigan, who was appearing virtually, noted that she believed the session had been hacked. Moderator John Shymko agreed that the meeting had "been hacked in a number of ways."

Hannigan continued, however, and stated that in writing the letter to the board "the mayor believed she was acting in good faith."

Hannigan commented, "There is a steep learning curve when elected to the position of mayor and also to council in general, but more so to the mayor, particularly when brand new to local government."

Hannigan said the findings are that "Mayor Gibson did breach the Code of Conduct by her actions toward the board and library personnel. Mayor Gibson acted outside the scope of her duties, as described, when she, without formal approval of council, authored a letter to the board dismissing them from their positions, and further, when she gave direction to the library staff to circulate that letter to the board members."

The town will be receiving the report for consideration at its April committee-of-the-whole meeting.

Councillor Pat Anderson said she is "still very angry at everything that has gone on” in a comment directed to Gibson.

“I still have not seen that letter that started this whole upset. It never came to council. That aggravates me too."

Darlene Wroe is a Local Journalism Initiative Reporter with the Temiskaming Speaker. LJI is funded by the Government of Canada