Council punishes Ashmore for code of conduct breaches
Councillor Ron Ashmore has been docked two weeks’ pay for multiple violations of the City of Kawartha Lakes Code of Conduct and Ethics for Members of Council and Local Boards.
Mayor Andy Letham made the announcement at the end of an almost four-hour regular council meeting on March 22, stating that the integrity commissioner had concluded that councillor Ashmore breached three different sections of the city code of conduct.
Charles Harnick, the city integrity commissioner, called the councillor’s actions “troubling and serious.”
The city created the position of integrity commissioner to handle situations where a member of council or city board is accused, by a member of the public, of engaging in activity where the council or board member gains some kind of advantage because of the power and influence their political position brings them.
According to information contained in the integrity commissioner’s 12-page report, the incident that sparked the investigation and eventual discipline of Ashmore occurred on June 12, 2021.
The complainant, a Kawartha Lakes bylaw enforcement officer, “was attending a business known as Emerald Green Landscaping located at 103 Queen Street in Lindsay. A citizen had complained to the city that a sign at the business was obstructing the view of oncoming traffic. The bylaw officer had attended to investigate.”
During a conversation between the bylaw officer and an employee (Zach Bradbury) about the sign, a car pulled up containing councillor Ashmore who parked his vehicle “and walked over directly to them.”
Ashmore told the integrity commissioner that “the complainant was badgering (the employee)” and that “Bradbury looked like he was in distress.”
According to the report filed by the commissioner, Ashmore told the bylaw enforcement officer that “they should go look at other signs in the area…and not investigate signs where there is a new business that the city wants to have.”
In the report, Bradbury said the bylaw officer asked Ashmore to leave two or three times, or the officer would charge him with obstruction of the investigation. Councillor Ashmore eventually complied with this request.
After an investigation and interviewing of all the involved parties, Harnick wrote, “I find that Ashmore stopped and intervened in his role as city councillor, believing he could assist a new business owner. He offered to assist Bradbury, told him he sits on the bylaws appeals committee and told him quite clearly what he thought the bylaw enforcement officer should and should not be doing. He did this all in the officer’s presence…he made (his comments) right in front of the bylaw officer to undermine the officer’s authority.”
“I find,” Harnick continued, “that councillor Ashmore used his authority as a councillor to interfere with the lawful exercise of the complainant’s duties. His very purpose for attending was to let everyone present know who he was and to confront the bylaw enforcement officer.”
Harnick concluded that Ashmore is in breach of three sections of the city code of conduct.
“I…find that councillor Ashmore,” Harnick wrote, “is in breach of Section 9.3(c) of the code in that he used his authority or influence to interfere with the lawful exercise of duties of staff or the professional or legal obligations of staff.”
“I further find that councillor Ashmore is in breach of Section 9.2(a) of the code,” Harnick wrote. “By intervening as he did, councillor Ashmore did not permit the complainant to administer the policies of the city without undue influence.”
“Finally, with respect to Section 4.1 (a) of the code, which states that members shall make every effort to act in good faith and care, I find councillor Ashmore’s actions were deliberate, undermining, and made without care and good faith in recognizing and understanding the importance of the bylaw enforcement officer’s impartial role,” Harnick wrote.
The integrity commissioner suggested to council “that because of the seriousness of councillor Ashmore’s actions that he be suspended without pay for a month.”
Ashmore, through his lawyers, responded to Harnick on February 23, 2022.
“Councillor Ashmore accepts the factual findings but disputes the recommended sanction. In particular, counsel for councillor Ashmore recommends a penalty of an apology, a reprimand and training on the essential separation between council members and municipal law enforcement officers for all members of council or just councillor Ashmore.”
In his March 4, 2022 report to council Harnick rejected the defense lawyer’s compromise offer regarding discipline.
“Counsel’s submission that this conduct warrants at most a three-day suspension trivializes councillor Ashmore’s disregard for the independence of law enforcement,” Harnick wrote. “I do not believe the imposition of a reprimand would adequately satisfy the principles of deterrence and rehabilitation and I find that a stronger sanction is required given the gravity of the conduct.”
Council debated Ashmore’s punishment in closed session returning their verdict of a two-week pay suspension effective the pay period beginning May 2, 2022.
Ashmore was not present in chambers for the pronouncement by council, though he had attended and participated in the open session previous to the closed-door deliberations.