Home Featured Councillor in Fort Frances, Ont., resigns in protest following integrity commissioner’s report into violations of code of conduct

Councillor in Fort Frances, Ont., resigns in protest following integrity commissioner’s report into violations of code of conduct

by HR Law Canada

The Integrity Commissioner of Fort Frances, David G. Boghosian, has issued a report finding Councillor David Kircher in violation of multiple provisions of the Code of Conduct.

The investigation, initiated by a Council Resolution on Feb. 13, 2024, highlighted Councillor Kircher’s misuse of municipal email, unauthorized directions to staff, and disrespect towards fellow councillors and staff, resulting in significant dysfunction within the council.

The investigation stemmed from a series of complaints and concerns raised by Mayor Andrew Hallikas and other council members regarding Councillor Kircher’s conduct. The report, dated May 3, 2024, provides a detailed account of the violations, emphasizing the gravity of the actions and their impact on the council’s operations and staff morale.

According to local press reports, Kircher resigned and exited the council meeting before it voted on the recommended sanctions against him.

“I am very disappointed with the integrity commissioners report. I strongly disagree with his findings and his recommendations,” Kircher said prior to his departure. “Everything that I’ve done and for which I’ve been criticized, is motivated by my concerns for the town and my desire to ensure that council is always acting in the best interest of the town and its citizens.”

Key findings

The report outlines numerous instances of Councillor Kircher’s misconduct, categorized into several areas of concern:

Violations of the Open Meeting Principle: Councillor Kircher frequently conducted council business via email, involving a quorum of council members, which violated the open meeting principle mandated by the Municipal Act, 2001. These discussions, both confidential and non-confidential, should have taken place in an open, public meeting or a properly constituted closed session.

Disrespect Towards Fellow Councillors: The most severe violation involved an email sent by Councillor Kircher to Councillor John McTaggart, accusing him of serious misconduct and copying an Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) officer. This email, written in an aggressive and implicitly threatening tone, was seen as an attempt to intimidate and humiliate Councillor McTaggart. Additional emails contained insinuations against Mayor Hallikas, further contributing to a hostile environment.

Improper Dealings with Town Staff: Councillor Kircher repeatedly directed staff to undertake tasks without council approval, sought information directly from staff rather than through the CAO, and made unfounded accusations against staff members, damaging their professional credibility and causing personal distress.

Interference with Independent Adjudicative Bodies: The report found that Councillor Kircher attempted to influence the decisions of the Committee of Adjustment, a quasi-judicial body, by advocating for changes outside of a formal hearing process.

Misuse of Confidential Information: Councillor Kircher forwarded confidential emails and documents to his personal email account, creating the appearance of potential misuse of confidential information, although no evidence of actual disclosure was found.

    Penalties and recommendations

    The Integrity Commissioner has recommended a cumulative 55-day suspension of Councillor Kircher’s pay as a penalty for his actions. The breakdown of the suspension is as follows:

    • 10 days for violations of the open meeting principle.
    • 30 days for disrespect towards fellow councillors.
    • 10 days for harassment of staff.
    • 5 days for interference with independent adjudicative bodies.

    In addition, the Commissioner recommended a formal reprimand for the improper handling of confidential information.

    To address the dysfunction within the council, the report also suggests that Councillor Kircher publicly apologize to Councillor McTaggart and that the town hire a workplace facilitator to work with the councillors to restore mutual trust and respect.

    Council approves sanctions

    After he exited the chamber, the remaining councillors voted to approve the commissioners recommended sanctions of: a cumulative 55 day suspension of pay: a formal reprimand: a request for a public apology to Counc. John McTaggart and: a workplace facilitator be appointed to better relations between Kircher and McTaggart, and possibly between all of council, according to the report in the Fort Frances Times.

    Coun. Wendy Brunetta suggested that the final reprimand be set aside for the time being, until Council deemed it appropriate, which was approved.

    Kircher will be assessing his next steps, which may or may not include legal action, according to the Times.

    With files from the Local Journalism Initiative.

    For more information, see Council Complaint re: Councillor David Kircher (Re), 2024 ONMIC 8 (CanLII).

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