The mayor of Napanee is once again the subject of an integrity commissioner’s report, this time, for allegations of threats and harassment.
A report penned by Laura Dean recommends that Mayor Marg Isbester be reprimanded by council in relation to one of two complaints issued against her in June of this year.
This comes on the heels of another report presented to council in mid-September, which found that Isbester failed to mention a potential conflict of interest involving property owned by her son. No reprimand was suggested in that case.
Still, Dean found this time around, at least in one instance, it was clear that the mayor breached the Town’s code of conduct.
According to the report, Isbester made a comment about burning down the house of a person she had a contentious relationship with. She admitted to saying these statements, including repeating it twice at a fire station, the report noted.
“The mayor’s response expresses her concern with the ‘damage’ being caused by public comments being made by (the complainant) regarding personnel issues at the fire department. The mayor’s response states that her comments about burning down (the complainant’s) house were made ‘in jest and in support of our firefighters,'” the report said.
Isbester told Global News she was withholding comment until after the report was presented to council, but Dean notes that the mayor apologized for the comment made to the complainant.
“No matter what, in jest or in a serious nature, as a member of council I should not have said anything about burning of houses to (the complainant). For that I apologize.”
Dean found it important to note that the mayor questioned the motives of this particular complainant, saying they may have political ambitions, and that the purpose of the complaints was to “discredit her and to have both her and the Town incur substantial expenses.”
Prior to the previous integrity commissioner report, the Town of Napanee and the former mayor were accused of impropriety in certain land deals, of which both were cleared in a KPMG investigation.
Despite Isbester’s questioning of the complainant’s motives and her apology for the statement, Dean found that a reprimand was warranted for repeating the statement at the fire station.
“We understand that that (the complainant) has been a vocal critic of the mayor and the Town and that the mayor believes much of this criticism to be unwarranted. In any event, the mayor must bear in mind that she holds a position of influence and is, at all times, a representative of the municipality,” Dean said.
Still, the commissioner stopped short of calling for a suspension of pay, another option allowed when such breaches are found.
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Dean did not recommend any sanctions on another grievance, despite finding the complainant’s version of events credible.
According to the report, on Dec. 24 of last year, a resident saw scrap lumber being dumped on property across from their own. This property is owned by Isbester’s son, Andrew Isbester. Land owned by Andrew was the main point of contention in the last integrity commissioner process presented just under two weeks ago.
On Christmas Eve, the report said the resident called bylaw, but could not get in touch with officials because of the holiday, so opted for OPP and then the mayor.
The mayor came to the property to discuss the matter, and learned that her son owned the property where the lumber was dumped.
According to her version of events, presented by Dean, Isbester communicated with the complainant after checking with her son that he had authorized the dumping. She said that “he often permitted scrap lumber to be left in that location, but that if it was impeding traffic, he would either instruct one of his employees to remove the materials, or he would remove them himself.”
The complainant was worried about how the scrap lumber might impede snow removal. Isbester claims the resident expressed concerns about the property becoming “a mess.”
During the call between the mayor and the resident, both agree that things got heated. The complainant claims the mayor became very angry said the following: “If you make it known that Andrew is involved in this, I will go after you with everything I’ve got.”
Isbester denies making any threats, but says she does not remember the exact words she said during the call. Dean said Isbester admitted to her words becoming “pointed,” and that they may have sounded “fairly un-Christmas-like” but that she said she “certainly did not make any kind of threat.”
Despite finding the complainant’s version of events credible, Dean said the context of the incident led her away from recommending sanctions in this matter.
“With respect to (the complaint), while we are of the opinion that the mayor likely made uncivil and perhaps hostile comments constituting a threat to (the complainant) on Dec. 24, 2020, in the circumstances, such conduct, while not excusable, must be considered in the context of a rainy, COVID-19, Christmas Eve call in which the conduct of her son was at issue.”
Dean will present her report to council Tuesday, where councillors will be then given the opportunity to vote on the recommendation to reprimand Isbester.
Global News has not been able to confirm the identities of the two complainants. Dean has yet to respond to a request for comment.