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Mayor of Belleville, councillors, believe integrity commissioner report ‘overdone’

Click to play video: 'Belleville mayor apologizes after release of Integrity Commission report' Belleville mayor apologizes after release of Integrity Commission report
Belleville's integrity commissioner suggested that Mayor Mitch Panciuk be reprimanded after an investigation into code of conduct violations – Oct 30, 2019

The mayor of Belleville has apologized after the city’s integrity commissioner released a report saying he violated the city’s code of conduct, but he and other councillors believe the report lacked important facts.

The 16-page report released this week outlines several findings against Belleville Mayor Mitch Panciuk and two suggested penalties, neither of which city councillors decided to implement.

Click to play video: 'Council votes against recommendation to reprimand Belleville mayor' Council votes against recommendation to reprimand Belleville mayor
Council votes against recommendation to reprimand Belleville mayor – Oct 29, 2019

After a months-long investigation by the city’s integrity commissioner, it was recommended that a public reprimand be issued expressing council’s condemnation of Panciuk’s alleged interference in the city’s hiring process and his reported attempts to influence staff to make hiring decisions. The second recommended penalty was to impose a 30-day suspension of Panciuk’s pay.

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Out of three complaints made against the mayor, the integrity commissioner found that Panciuk had breached the code of conduct in two cases. A complaint was also made against two councillors, Pat Culhane and Kelly McCaw, but the integrity commissioner found it to be unfounded.

Council voted on Monday night to accept the integrity commissioner’s findings that ruled in favour of the mayor and councillors, but did note vote on or mention the rulings that found Panciuk had breached the code of conduct or the two recommendations the commissioner offered in relation to the mayor.

Although Panciuk says he is remorseful for any potential wrongdoings on his part, he does not feel the suggested reprimands were warranted.

“I recognize that I should not have put myself in that situation and made the city and council vulnerable, and I apologize for that,” said Panciuk, who added that he thought “the potential penalties that [the integrity commissioner] was suggesting were overdone for a first occurrence.”

The report found that Panciuk violated council’s code of conduct by trying to sway the hiring process for one employee and that he directed staff to include two candidates on a shortlist to be interviewed, even though they were unqualified for the position. Panciuk says these are false accusations, as did the majority of Belleville’s council members.

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“The thing about integrity commissioner reports is that they are opinions,” Panciuk told Global News on Wednesday. “It’s an opinion of somebody, and council has their right to agree or disagree and what was in the integrity commissioner’s report, but this could not be used in a court of law.”

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Over the last week, Global News has reached out to all of Belleville’s council members, many of whom did not want to comment.

Those who did comment told Global News that the report lacked “facts.” They included councillors McCaw and Culhane, who were both investigated by the commissioner and believe the accusations made against them, and the mayor, to be erroneous.

“The mayor admits responsibility, and he publicly apologized, and I don’t see any reason to punish or embarrass him further,” Culhane told Global News on Wednesday.

“I was shocked when I saw my name in the report. The allegations were untrue and manufactured,” McCaw said in an interview on Tuesday.

Culhane added that although the mayor is not facing consequences, she believes changes can be made at city hall to avoid future issues.

“The hiring policy needs to be reviewed, and I am the chair of the committee who will be reviewing hires, and there will be changes,” Culhane said after being asked about the mayor’s use of “courtesy interviews.”

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