Napanee council will formally reprimand its mayor following her second integrity commissioner investigation in under a month.
The recent report penned by Laura Dean found that Mayor Marg Isbester had, in one of two complaints, breached the code of conduct for comments made about burning down the house of a resident of Napanee, and repeating these comments on two occasions at a local fire hall. Isbester did not deny any of these allegations but did say she made the statements in jest.
Another unidentified complainant claims that Isbester threatened them in a dispute over her son, Andrew Isbester. The mayor maintains that she never threatened that complainant.
“I did not. I will stay with my conviction that I did not make the comment, the complainant number one has cited,” she said in a statement to council. Still, the mayor apologized if she came across as uncivil or hostile.
As for the second complaint, the one for which she was being reprimanded, Isbester already apologized to the complainant, but issued one to council Tuesday night.
“I should have done one of two things with complaint number two, used different words to encourage (him to) let up on my family and the people that I work with or just let it keep rolling and accept that it is part of my job to accept all and any statements,” she said.
Still, Isbester acknowledged that as mayor, she should not be making such comments.
“These are statements that should not have been made in any context, in any setting. And to anyone in my position as mayor, to staff and counsel, I apologize for putting you in this position that may reflect badly and does reflect badly on council as a whole.”
The integrity commissioner report noted that Isbester felt that this particular complainant may have had political motivations in bringing this information to light, and that the person has had a contentious relationship with both Isbester and the town.
This was something mentioned by deputy Mayor Max Kaiser, who was the only one to speak out directly in support of the mayor.
“I know who complainant number two is and if you want to have that conversation with that individual, that’s up to you. I’m sure you could and have many times before. I’m sure complainant number two didn’t really care about the words used for them,” Kaiser said.
But, he said her repetition of the comment later at the fire hall is what “got her in trouble.”
Still, he said he hopes this is not all that is remembered from her long legacy on council as both a councillor and mayor.
“Nobody can touch the time involved that you’ve put into the council,” Kaiser said.
But his comments were in the minority around the horseshoe, with several members expressing strong disapproval of the mayor’s actions as they were described in the report.
Some, like Ward 4 Coun. Jeff Norrie, asked Isbester to resign.
“I know it’s not a positive thing to say, but I’m going to ask you to do the honorable thing and step down as mayor so we can continue to move forward as positive and respected members of this council in this town,” he said.
The second integrity commissioner report came as a surprise to some council members, like Coun. Dave Pinnell, who said he only learned of the most recent investigation from reading Tuesday’s meeting’s agenda.
He noted that overall, he felt Isbester had done a good job as mayor, but that her actions as depicted in the report were giving the town and councillors a bad reputation.
“I do feel that these actions have embarrassed the corporation of greater Nappanee staff, the residents and us as councillors,” Pinnell said.
During questioning of the integrity commissioner, Ward 2 Coun. John McCormack asked if any other complaints were being investigated by the commissioner, to which she and Isbester both said no. McCormack said if more things came to light, it would be hard for him to continue to support Isbester as mayor.
“If more stuff comes down the pipe or it’s going to be a problem,” he said.
In the end, only Norrie voted against council’s motion to reprimand the mayor.
She will be made to write a formal apology to the first complainant, to the members of staff that witnessed the “threatening behavior” and to the community as a whole. She will also be made to go through counseling to address what council called threatening behaviour. She will further be reminded to follow the town’s social media policy. Support will be offered to the complainants and those who witnessed Isbester’s behaviour.
The mayor told council she would accept any reprimand handed down. She has yet to respond to a Global News request for further comment.