In hindsight it was probably predictable that the introduction of an office of integrity commissioner in Hamilton would result in the kind of trivial gamesmanship that has evolved. The latest chapter comes in a report by outgoing Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse that acknowledges that Councillor Lloyd Ferguson’s physical encounter with Journalist Joey Coleman was a breach of the city’s Code of Conduct. The report, coming a year after the incident, did not recommend any sanction, noting that Ferguson had promptly apologized privately to Coleman and later publicly; and that Coleman had publicly accepted the apology. But the incident was quickly touted by Ferguson’s enemies on council as justification for his removal from his position as Chair of the Police Services Board. To us this was simply another attempt to get even for Ferguson’s support to the extension of Chief Glenn DeCaire’s contact, something that some members of council opposed. One questions the mock outrage supposedly over the mistreatment of Coleman, which is a legitimate issue; given that council made no such outcry at the time of the incident, in the intervening year, or even last month when the Integrity report on the incident was tabled. In the end Ferguson has once again apologized, paid a financial penalty and has recused himself from the selection committee picking a new integrity commissioner.
As to the office of Integrity Commissioner, the incumbent, Mr Basse has opted not to seek renewal of his contract. He has encountered personal medical issues that have affected his ability to render decisions in a timely matter, which is essential in any quasi-judicial process. We think that before a new commissioner is appointed, council should consider revisiting the hiring and reporting structure of the position. At the end of the day Basse was obliged to appear before a council committee to provide progress reports. The optics suggest a direct reporting line to council, which ultimately means councillors. Now that the provincial Ombudsman has been given responsibility for Municipal Codes of Conduct; perhaps a better way to proceed is for Hamilton and other cities to contribute to a fund that would allow the Ombudsman to hire a stable of integrity commissioners who could be assigned projects on a random basis. This would give Hamilton the clear transparency that is needed.