CORNWALL, Ontario – Cornwall City Council voted to reprimand Councillor Justin Towndale for a social media post he made in May of 2020.
At issue was a social media post Towndale made upon learning of former Fire Chief Pierre Voisine resigning his post with the city and taking a new job in Clarence-Rockland.
Just found out our Fire Chief is leaving for the same job in Clarence-Rockland. Know how I found out? Someone sent me a screenshot of the press release from Clarence-Rockland. I would have expected this sort of news from our administration, or Chief himself, first. #cwlpoli
— Justin Towndale (@JTowndale) May 21, 2020
Mind you, I guess I learned about our previous Manager of Environmental Services leaving for another municipality through the media, and not administration or herself, first. So I’m not exactly surprised. #cwlpoli
— Justin Towndale (@JTowndale) May 21, 2020
The City’s Integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming of Cunningham Swan Carty Little & Bonham LLP investigated two complaints that stemmed from the above tweets, one from the former Fire Chief, and another from CAO Maureen Adams.
Fleming found that Towndale violated the City’s Code of Conduct section 6.1, 6.3 (c) in both complaints and 11.1 and 11.2 (a) in the second complaint.
The Code of Conduct’s relevant sections:
6.0 GENERAL CONDUCT
6.1 Every Member has the duty and responsibility to treat members of the public, Staff and each other in a respectful manner, without abuse, bullying, Harassment or intimidation.
6.3 Every Member shall abide by the following principles: c) Members shall comply with all applicable legislation, by-laws and Municipal policies, including this Code of Conduct;
11.0 INTERACTION WITH STAFF
11.1 The Corporation of the City of Cornwall will promote a respectful, tolerant, harassment-free relationship and workplace between members of Council, and the officers and employees of the corporation.
11.2 Members shall not: a) maliciously or falsely injure the professional or ethical reputation of Staff
In Fleming’s report, he outlined Councillor Towndale’s history of seeking timely information from administration and his expressed frustration at perceived lapses of being provided information in a timely manner.
“Member Towndale knew that his public criticisms of administration were unwelcome. He
admitted in his written response to the complaint that he was being critical of staff in social
media, but he attempts to justify his behaviour by claiming that he is reporting the truth.
This is not a valid defence and the Integrity Commissioner finds that Councillor Towndale
deliberately used social media to denigrate the reputation of senior staff, particularly the
CAO, to further his personal agenda to correct what he perceives as inadequate reporting of
certain incidents by staff. This, despite having no formal policy and despite losing a motion
in 2016 to enact such a policy,” – Integrity Commissioner Fleming’s report on the second complaint.
Fleming recommended that Councillor Towndale be reprimanded and that he be barred from making critical remarks about City administration on social media.
“Councillor Towndale has shown no remorse or even understanding of why his behaviour is
not appropriate. In addition, when asked by the Mayor to engage with staff to try to resolve
his concerns his response is to refuse to speak with staff,” the second Integrity Commissioner’s report goes on to read in the Conclusion.
Of Cornwall’s 11 Council members, nine voted in favour of reprimanding Councillor Towndale, with only Councillor Eric Bergeron voting against the reprimand.
“I believe in my two and a half years of politics that Councillor Towndale advocates for accountability more than anyone else in politics,” said Councillor Bergeron. “I don’t think Councillor Towndale disrespects our administration, so I won’t be supporting this.”
Furthermore, Councillor Bergeron stated that he did not believe that Councillor Towndale’s post amounted to a breach of the Code of Conduct, something his other colleagues clearly disagreed with.
“I’m a black and white guy. If I’m at work and if I have any kind of issues at all, I go to the policy and procedures manual and the solution is right there in black and white and the answer is here in black and white,” said Councillor Todd Bennett. “It gives me no pleasure to give a reprimand in this case, but it is warranted in this case. I hope that we can all pick up the phone tomorrow, administration included and Councillor Towndale included and work together.”
Bennett commented that he believed that both CAO Maureen Adams and former Fire Chief Pierre Voisine did good work, and that so did Councillor Towndale.
Councillor Claude McIntosh stated that he was in favour of reprimanding Towndale because he believes that the social media posts in question amounted to bullying.
“Really, it is bullying by another name,” Councillor McIntosh said. “Pierre Voisine was a very good Fire Chief. I always felt that there were exterior motives taking place to make him look as bad as possible. When it comes to posting things on Facebook and saying I’m not responsible for those comments, there is a former President of the United States who said the same thing.”
Mayor Bernadette Clement explained that criticism is something within a councillor’s right to make, but stated that there was an appropriate way to make such criticism.
“Council and administration have different jobs,” Mayor Clement explained. “There is always a tension between the two. There’s always going to be a bit of a tension and that’s not a bad thing, we serve different functions. We bring public concerns, and administration they bring the expertise.”
“We should be able to criticize each other,” Mayor Clement went on to say. “Criticism has to be done in a way that is respectful and appropriate. We have a Code of Conduct that is pretty black and white that says that this is not where criticism is to take place. I hope by passing this motion we leave it at that. Criticism is fair Councillor Towndale as always, but it has to be allowed in a framework as set out in our Code of Conduct.”
Council voted down a motion to bar Councillor Towndale from making references to City administration on social media.
A story in the Standard Freeholder on Thursday, March 18 indicated that Towndale would reserve his comments for Monday night’s Council meeting. Councillor Towndale made no statement in his defense at the Council meeting.
Seaway News reached out to Councillor Towndale on Monday morning with questions about his social media remarks and his reaction to the report, but received no reply at time of writing.
Council voted against creating a separate section on the City’s website for Integrity Commissioner reports and printing copies of the reports.
Council went on to ask that administration draft a social media policy for Council, as no such policy exists.