Integrity Commissioner to report on Napanee Mayor’s threats to residents

Mayor Marg Isbester will be in the hot seat again on Tuesday, Sept. 28, as a second report of the Integrity Commissioner will be presented to council regarding two complaints made about the Greater Napanee Mayor’s conduct. Integrity Commissioner Laura Dean will be back for Tuesday’s regular council meeting to present her findings on these, the second and third conduct complaints made against Mayor Isbester. This report will come only two weeks after Dean presented her previous Integrity Commissioner’s report to council, wherein the Mayor was found to have contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

In their complaints, Greater Napanee residents Hubert Hogle and Randy Vollick say that Isbester made threats against them. “If I ever came after her sons she would ‘burn my house down,” Hogle’s complaint reads. Vollick’s complaint quotes Mayor Isbester as saying, “If you make it known that Andrew (the Mayor’s son) is involved in this, I will go after you with everything I’ve got.”

The complaints, dated June 21, 2021, allege the mayor contravened Section 9: Discrimination and Harrassment; and Section 10: Improper Use of Influence of the Code of Conduct. Hogle and Vollick submitted the complaints together as the allegations made are similar in nature, but were allegedly made toward each of them on different occasions. 

In a response to the complaints, Isbester admits to the truth of Hogle’s statement that she made the threats on multiple occasions, but explains in her submission to the Integrity Commission that the threats were made “in jest,” and were not to be taken seriously.

“It was said in ‘jest’…[Isbester’s emphasis] that I would burn his house down…followed by ‘I’m a pyromaniac you know.’” Isbester’s submission reads. “My repeating of the ‘I will burn your house down’ at the firehall, when I attended on November 25th and November 27th, 2020, was again in jest and in support of our firefighters,” Isbester adds later in the report.

Vollick’s complaint arises from an incident which occurred about a month later, on Christmas Eve of 2020, and initially did not include the Mayor, but instead the Mayor’s son, Andrew Isbester. 

At 10 a.m., Vollick’s complaint states, a black vehicle with a trailer unloaded scrap lumber directly across from Vollick’s house, on a seven-acre plot of land owned by Andrew Isbester. “The scrap lumber spilled out onto the non-travelled portion of Camden Road,” the complaint reads, impeding snow removal. Vollick called the by-law officer and Town Hall but being Christmas Eve, nobody picked up, which is why he then called Mayor Isbester. 

“I told her I called the OPP. She said she was fed up with all the illegal dumping that was happening,” Vollick says. “She asked who the owner of the property was and I told her it was her son, Andrew. She acted surprised,” Vollick’s complaint reads. “Mayor Isbester called back and said her son had authorized this dumping. She was very angry. She said, ‘If you make it known that Andrew is involved in this, I will go after you with everything I’ve got,” Vollick’s complaint continues.

Hogle says he was not initially aware of Isbester’s claims at the fire hall until Deputy Fire Chief, Bill Hammond, brought it to his attention on May 15, 2021. The next month he and Vollick submitted their joint complaint against the mayor. 

In her report, the Integrity Commissioner found that circumstances mitigated the seriousness of the Mayor’s statements with regard to Vollick’s complaint, but not so with regard to Hogle’s.

“With respect to Complaint #1 (Vollick), while we are of the opinion that the Mayor likely made uncivil and perhaps hostile comments constituting a threat to (Vollick) on December 24, 2020, in the circumstances, such conduct, while not excusable, must be considered in the context of a rainy, COVID-19, Christmas Eve call in which the conduct of her son was at issue. It is our recommendation that Council should not impose a sanction in relation to Complaint #1,” Dean says.

However, Dean continues, “while the Mayor’s conduct in relation to Complaint #1 can perhaps be explained by the circumstances, we find this is not so regarding the allegations set out in Complaint #2.”

“As a public figure, it is unacceptable for the Mayor to be out in public and in a fire station, no less, making comments, whether in jest or not, about burning down the home of a member of the public. We understand that [Hogle] has been a vocal critic of the Mayor and the Town and that the Mayor believes much of this criticism to be unwarranted,” Dean says. “In any event, the Mayor must bear in mind that she holds a position of influence and is, at all times, a representative of the municipality,” Dean continues.

Integrity Commissioner Dean concludes that, in jest or not, these statements are “unacceptable” and recommends a reprimand, but falls short of recommending a suspension. “In our opinion, it would be inappropriate to recommend a suspension of remuneration paid to the Mayor in the circumstances of the Complaints. Despite the fact that the Mayor has apologized to [Hogle] for the comment she made directly to him, it is our recommendation that Council denounce the Mayor for her conduct in repeating these comments at the fire station. In this circumstance, a reprimand is warranted,” Dean’s report states.

The entire report can be read here.

As for Tuesday’s presentation by the Integrity Commissioner, it will be up to council to determine whether it should accept Dean’s recommendation to reprimand the Mayor, or whether it would like to proceed with recommendation 223.4(5) of the Municipal Act, which allows “council to impose the following penalties on a member who has been found to have contravened the Code: … (b) a suspension of remuneration paid to the member for a period up to ninety (90) days,” Dean’s report reads.

“I am determined that I’m not going to ease up on this,” Hogle says. “Honestly, I believe that Mayor Isbester should resign. I think she’s just disgraced herself and the council.”

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