A lawyer from a firm based in Goderich has been hired as London’s new Council watchdog.
Gregory Stewart was officially appointed as the city’s first Integrity Commissioner during Tuesday’s Council meeting at City Hall.
Stewart, who currently works for the law firm Donnelly & Murphy in Goderich, has previously served as an Integrity Commissioner in Middlesex, Oxford and Perth Counties.
According to a release from City Hall, Stewart starts his three-year term immediately and will:
- Investigate complaints and alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council.Review the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and make recommendations on an annual basis.
- Serve as an advisor to individual Members of Council in relation to the Code of Conduct and any procedures, rules and policies of the municipality governing ethical behavior, and act as a proactive educator for Council, the Civic Administration and the public.
- Provide reports to Council, summarizing his activities.
- Provide individual investigative reports, as required, which will include background concerning a complaint and recommendations to Municipal Council with respect to a complaint
“This marks an important step forward,” said Mayor Matt Brown in the release. “The Integrity Commissioner will help us meet our desire to strengthen the relationship between our municipality and the Londoners we serve. It’s important that we all be open, transparent and held accountable to our community. I am confident that this position will support Council in doing exactly that.”
Stewart will work independently from civic administration as needed for the next three years for $250 an hour plus expenses.
Speaking live on the Craig Needles Show on Wednesday morning, Stewart described how he intends to handle complaints.
“It may not be relevant to the Code of Conduct,” he said. “It may be dealing with a conflict of interest, it may be dealing with election issues, it may be dealing with a number of things, so my approach to it is that if someone has a complaint, they bring it to me, I inquire into it, first of all, to determine whether or not it is properly a subject that I should be dealing with, and once I determine that, I decide how I’m going to go about doing it.”
He’s commending Council for appointing an Integrity Commissioner.
“I have to compliment the city on being willing to have a Code of Conduct and employ an Integrity Commissioner because it’s something that Councils don’t have to do,” Stewart said. “They can do it at their option. Particularily in larger municipalities, they seem to be trending towards that, certainly Toronto has one, and Ottawa has one. I think it’s an important function and it’s one that I take very seriously and I think it’s an important element of government, and the whole element of transparency in government.”
Stewart won’t deal with complaints about council holding illegal closed door meetings since the Ontario ombudsman handles that.
Councillor Josh Morgan agreed that Stewart will be a vital asset to maintaining transparency.
“The Integrity Commissioner is empowered to repremand Council, and even go the level of suspending renumerations, so cutting off our pay for a period of up to three months for misconduct,” he said. “That adds real consequence to violating the Code of Conduct that the Ombudsman, in this case, wouldn’t be dealing with in their investigation of closed door meetings.”
Stewart will report directly to Council, which until recently appeared to be in no rush to hire someone.
In fact, the position was created by the previous Council, and the current Council only started accepting resumes from candidates last June.
In a surprising move that came without public debate in January, Council suspended the public search and moved to a Confidential Targeted Recruitment Process behind closed doors to seek out candidates themselves.
Stewart’s hiring comes about a week after questions were raised over the decision to hire Mayor Matt Brown’s campaign manager during his 2014 mayoral bid to produce the final report for London’s Poverty Panel.
Jeff Sage of Sagecomm was paid $9,266 for his firm’s work on producing the panel’s final report.
Brown has distanced himself from that decision, saying he was not a part of it.
Sage previously said it’s his understanding that city staff brought forward a recommendation to hire Sagecomm because of their relevant experience with the City of London and non-profit organizations.