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Napanee Town Council debates merits of new training for Mayor

Greater Napanee Mayor Marg Isbester sat quietly Tuesday, Oct. 12, 2021, after relinquishing her Chair to Deputy Mayor Max Kaiser for a follow-up discussion on the completion of recommendations made by the Town’s Integrity Commissioner, Laura Dean, in September.  

Dean’s report at that time found the Mayor had breached the Town Code of Conduct and made suggestions for remedial actions. Council passed a resolution in support of formally reprimanding and denouncing Mayor Isbester’s misconduct. 

A report to Council from Town Clerk Jessica Walters gave an update on what action has been completed by the Mayor to date, as well as the plan for addressing longer-term recommendations. On Friday, October 1, three formal written apologies were issued by the Mayor: one to staff, one to the complainants, and one to the entire community. The staff apology was sent from the office of the CAO, distributed to all staff and included an encouragement to take advantage of the support available. “In an effort to respect the confidentiality and privacy of witnesses, communication was issued broadly to everyone to ensure no one is missed,” Walters wrote.

Mayor Marg Isbester, center, listened quietly to Tuesday’s discussion of her remediation for misconduct. Deputy Mayor Max Kaiser presided over this part of the Council meeting. Screenshot from the Town of Napanee YouTube page.

In accordance, apologies to both complainants were sent out by mail, while the apology to the community was posted on the Town website, the Town’s Facebook page, and in a local newspaper. Only one item was left unfinished: the Code of Conduct remedial coaching – which required further direction from the Council before being implemented.

Kaiser sought input from the Council on the next steps, with regard to the training, floating an idea mentioned in the report that this could be seen as professional development that could be offered to all members of Council.

“There is a cost of training and it’s noted in the report and while the training is a requirement for the Mayor, there’s no up cost for all of us sitting in or anyone else and so I guess I’ll put that out there for any discussion. Or we could leave it open that if anybody wanted to sit in there, they could.”

The report explained that, “Costs to have the Integrity Commissioner conduct a training session with either the Mayor alone or Council as a group would be in the range of $1,800-2,200 for virtual training (there is a higher cost for in-person training).”

Councillor John McCormack seemed to support group participation, noting in his first remarks, “Maybe we could make a motion to proceed with the training through the Integrity Commissioner, and once the date timeline is available, make it known to staff and members of council and those that want to participate.”

This was supported and even expanded upon by Councillor Ellen Johnson, who said, “I think it would be really beneficial, not just for the Mayor, but also members of the public to understand the constraints that are required, even as they interact with staff on an ongoing basis. The Code of Conduct is something that we request everyone to adhere to. And it’s a two-way street so that the respect works in both directions. So if we can offer it for free for members of the public who’d like to participate, I think that would be a great idea.”

At this, Councillor McCormack raised serious concerns. “This was a resolution made by this Council as a remedial type of process with respect to some actions of her worship, and I wish those actions had never happened, but they did and they have. And I appreciate the fact that we’re going to pay $2,200 whether 50 people attend or not, but I think it’s important to remember that it’s a remedial action in regards to some behaviour that shouldn’t have happened,” he said.

McCormack’s thoughts were expanded upon by Councillor Bob Norrie who said, “I truly respect the democratic process and I understand the motion as it went through and that’s fine, that’s the way it works, that’s great. I just want to say that I’ve been approached directly by a number of people (constituents) and they feel that they’ve done nothing wrong, and shouldn’t have pay for it.” 

“I agree with Councillor Richardson that I wouldn’t attend it; I haven’t done anything wrong as far as I know,” he concluded, referring to sentiments Councillor Terry Richardson had expressed earlier.

After much discussion about the cost to taxpayers, the true intent of the remediation process, and failing to pass two motions, new CAO John Pinsent, asked if he could assist in an attempt to breach the impasse on the part of Council.

“Because it’s the Integrity Commissioner that is ‘training,’ and it’s broader than what the original [resolution] was, which was ‘coaching,’ which can be done one on one, so I suspect that the intent of the motion was to do that, whether it’s the Integrity Commissioner, or anyone else,” Pinsent said.

“I don’t know if we have any qualified coaches on staff. I’m not a qualified coach. So I would suspect in the interest of the organization, we find somebody to do that coaching, be it the Integrity Commissioner or anyone else that staff finds. And if you want to designate me as the staff that finds that person that is suitable to do that coaching, I’ll volunteer.”

“I think it’s clear by the report that the actions are being taken smartly, without delay,” Pinsent said, as a timeline was settled on. The CAO will report back on a suitable coach for the Mayor by the next meeting of Council, “Whether [the coaching] has been done or when it’s scheduled to be done,” he said.

The vote was called, and Deputy Mayor Kaiser was clearly relieved with the result.

“Holy moly, look at that, it’s unanimous in favour,” he said. “Thank you very much.”

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