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Council refuses recommendation to reprimand Belleville mayor

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WATCH: Belleville city council voted on Monday to ignore the recommendations of their integrity commissioner, which suggested that Mayor Mitch Panciuk be reprimanded – Oct 29, 2019

Despite a damning report from Belleville’s integrity commissioner finding that Mayor Mitch Panciuk violated municipal code of conduct on two occasions, Panciuk will not be reprimanded.

The commissioner also looked into potential violations involving two councillors, but those were determined to be unfounded.

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On Monday evening, council voted only to accept findings in the report in which the integrity commissioner ruled the claims were unfounded against the mayor and councilors.

As such, no further action will be taken.

A complaint was launched in June by Coun. Ryan Williams with the support of Coun. Paul Carr against Panciuk and council members Kelly McCaw and Pat Culhane.

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Despite the lack of a reprimand, Williams says he is satisfied with the results.

“If we didn’t have the integrity commission process, if that wasn’t there, this could be still going on,” Williams told Global News on Tuesday.

The detailed report — authored by Tony Flemming, a Kingston lawyer hired to conduct the independent investigation — explored the conduct of the mayor and the council members during the hiring process for three separate city staff members.

Panciuk was accused of interfering in the hiring process of all three, while the councillors were accused of breach of conduct in connection with the hiring of one employee.

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Following a months-long investigation, the integrity commissioner found Panciuk violated council’s code of conduct by using the influence of his office to sway the hiring process for one employee. Flemming’s report also determined that Panciuk directed staff to include two candidates on a short list to be interviewed, despite being unqualified or disqualified for the position.

In mid-January 2019, the integrity commissioner found that the mayor pushed a senior city staff member to hire a person he knew.

“I am not telling you to hire this person, but [they] would be great as [they] has [sic] many skills in areas of protocol and the like,” the integrity commissioner claims Panciuk said to a senior staff member.

“Like I tell my managers at Boston Pizza, it’s your funeral either way, you decide. It’s your funeral.”

Later, the commissioner says the mayor pushed to have a member of his staff be included in the interview process for this position. The report also notes that other than the candidate’s relationship with the mayor, they would never have received an interview.

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Although both McCaw and Culhane expressed their support for that same candidate, the integrity commissioner’s report stated city staff did not feel pressure from either councillor to hire the candidate.

In another case reviewed by the integrity commissioner, Panciuk reportedly promoted another employee in a role he deemed “acting” even though the position was brand new, and internal candidates were competing for the job — something the city’s human resources department took issue with. Nevertheless, Flemming did not find this action to be in violation of the municipal code of conduct.

In a third incident, the integrity commissioner found that Panciuk pushed to have two candidates added to an interview list, despite the fact that one did not meet the minimum criteria for the job, and another, who council members had suggested, missed the deadline for applying. The commissioner notes the human resources department flagged these issues with the mayor, but Panciuk persisted.

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Panciuk’s response to these actions is as follows:

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“When I requested that these two individuals be added as interview candidates, I used the term ‘courtesy interview’ and was clear that I was not advocating for them to be hired,” the report reads. ” I continue to maintain that this was appropriate conduct as upper level members of government as well as my council colleague are influential and deserve the respect to consider their requests.”

On Oct. 7, of this year, the city “parted ways” with its human resources manager, Tim Osborne, without much explanation. This happened after the city held a closed-door meeting on Oct. 4, for which council has not given any information.

Nevertheless, in the motion made on Monday to deny and accept various parts of the report, it states that the integrity commissioner’s report was dated Oct. 4.

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In a statement made to Global Kingston over email, Panciuk said he is taking the commissioner’s report to heart, but also believes staff members “misrepresented” some of their private conversations.

“I see this report as a learning opportunity, so that I can do my job better as your Mayor. I also want to sincerely apologize to the citizens of Belleville for any errors I have made.”

Panciuk added that there were “some significant factual errors contained within the report.”

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“I accept the role of the integrity commissioner to provide these rulings and recognize how difficult it can be to evaluate a situation based solely on the statements of those involved.”

The report listed two recommendations to reprimand Panciuk.

The first was that council publish a public reprimand expressing council’s condemnation of Panciuk’s interference in the hiring process of the city and his attempts to influence staff to make hiring decisions. The second was to impose a 30-day suspension of Panciuk’s pay.

Neither will be implemented.

However, council did vote to implement one of the commissioner’s recommendations, which was to “review their obligations to the Occupational Health and Safety Act with respect to the fear of reprisal expressed by the senior staff member during the investigation.”

— With files from Shauna Cunningham, Kraig Krause and Alexandra Mazur.

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