To borrow a phrase from former United States President Barrack Obama, the report filed on a public complaint by Janet Leiper, one of the integrity commissioners for The Blue Mountains, provides a very teachable moment for the public.
The report, which can be found in the News section of The Thornbury Paper, deals with a complaint filed by an unknown party to the town in January.
That complaint apparently addresses a discussion between council members that did not occur during an open session of council, and references a prior workplace complaint. One council member, according to the report, tried to initiate a discussion relating to that prior situation, and was “rebuffed” by his/her colleagues.
Armed with just that much information, it’s fairly clear who the allegedly-aggrieved council member in question is, so it’s just a bit silly to see the exaggerated steps the integrity commissioner is taking to throw a veil of secrecy over the events. Once again, municipal officials have the chance to pull the trigger on being open and transparent but are firing blanks. You only have to look further south to the Whitchurch-Stouffville area to see where a somewhat comparable situation involving its mayor has been handled much more openly for a comparison. Although, to be fair, the council there allegedly has a threat report on the municipal mayor’s behavior prepared by the investigating team that it hasn’t made public. Municipalities, it seems, have certain recurrent challenges when it comes to being fully open.
Even the name of the complainant has been redacted from the report, likely in the name of preserving privacy. I’m not entirely in favour of that, on the basis that if you file a complaint against a public official, you should be prepared to publicly stand behind it. Make no mistake though; I’m a big fan of the public utilizing their opportunity to hold public officials to account.
There are some clear lessons to be gathered from all of this, and it gives a good sense of what the condition of the playing field is under this framework.
- Don’t file a complaint on behalf of someone else.
In this instance, it looks like the councillor in question made some after-the-fact comments to a member of the public, who was not happy with what he/she heard. That person, in response filed a complaint – basically on behalf of the councillor.
As Leiper notes in the report, that councillor made no complaint of their own suggesting any policies had been violated. Clearly, under this framework, that’s who should have been making the complaint. Hearsay is not sufficient grounds to file a complaint, no matter how outraged you might be.
I’ve noticed a tendency in the community that people want to be “white knights”, riding to the rescue of those they deemed afflicted. It’s a noble goal, but not always welcome, desired or appropriate.
- Identify a specific person or persons to be named in the complaint, rather than making references to an amorphous council and staff as a whole.
Clearly, this complaint procedure is designed to function in a quasi-legal framework, with all of its potentially-confusing and tedious tendencies.
- Details are important.
As a quasi-legal system, this complaints process requires all of the traditional 5 W’s to be answered, likely in semi-exhaustive detail. If you’re going to make a complaint, don’t make it easy to be dismissed, as this one was, because you didn’t carefully itemize what you want to say and have corroborating details.
If you’re getting the impression this isn’t a user-friendly process to make a complaint that will stick, you’re likely correct. It’s a system designed by bureaucrats for bureaucrats, which means you either have to beat them at their own game, or find a way to change the game.
Hopefully, the next complainant will be better prepared to “fight city hall” with a complaint that’s better described and more comprehensive. That’s the lesson to be taken away here. As the cliche goes, forewarned is forearmed.