Burlington’s Ward Four City Councillor Shawna Stolte announced Tuesday night that she will not be seeking re-election. She made the comment as City Council voted to support the findings of an Integrity Commissioner who concluded she violated City Council’s confidentiality rules and should be docked five days pay.
“I’m not prepared to apologize. This is not a process that I believe in. It’s not a process that I can support. The end of my comment is to retract the statement that I made about running again for Council. I will not be running for a second term. This is not an avenue for me to do good work in the community”.
The blockbuster announcement came toward the end of a three-hour debate on what lead up to Sholte’s violation of the rules.
The Integrity Commissioner was called in to investigate after Councillors Kelvin Galbraith and Rory Nisan accused Sholte of breaching confidentiality obligations under the City’s Code of Good Governance, specifically that, on four occasions, she went public with information discussed in confidential, closed-door meetings.
After a full investigation the Integrity Commission found Sholte guilty of two of the accusations against her.
At a Committee meeting on December 6, 2021, Sholte publicly referred to the cost of purchasing the Robert Bateman School as well above $50 million.
“We find that the Councillor’s reference to an actual dollar figure, where by implication the only source of that information is closed session, constitutes a contravention of the confidentiality provisions of the Code” reported the Integrity Commissioner.
Secondly, in January Stolte told a constituent that a particular property matter would be discussed in closed session, under the heading “Confidential Update on a Litigation Matter”.
“The unilateral decision to disclose the municipal address of the property under consideration at closed session was, on its face, a contravention of the confidentiality provisions of the Code. We find that the Councillor, in emailing the constituent about the matter, contravened the confidentiality provisions of the Code”, wrote the Integrity Commissioner.
Two other allegations against Sholte were dismissed.
In a written statement last week, following release of the Integrity Commissioner’s report, Sholte tried to justify her actions and pointed the finger at her critics.
“The number of agenda items being moved into Closed/Confidential Council discussion and without providing meaningful information to the public about the general nature of the matter being considered, has increased during this term of Council……….Instead of choosing to work with me and collaborate on resolving this critical issue Councillors Nisan and Galbraith chose instead to issue four complaints against me with the Integrity Commissioner in January of 2022. Ironically, the complaint itself was made secret, and I was forbidden from informing the public.”
The Bigger Picture
Sholte has been an advocate of greater transparency at City Hall and wants the public to get more information about the frequency and reasons members of Council go behind closed doors. For her, it is not enough to simply say these meetings are for “legal advice” or “litigation”.
A number of media platforms recently joined Sholte in protesting the frequency of these closed- door meetings.
“The time this Council spends “in camera” (private session, away from public scrutiny) is extensive – probably record-breaking. There may be good reasons….but it seems to me they spend nearly as much time in-camera as in open session”, wrote columnist and former Alderman Joan Little.
The Integrity Commission weighed in on the larger issue.
“Councillor Stolte’s position regarding the adequacy of the resolution for closed session meetings has some validity and the City should consider modifying its closed session resolutions to both qualify and disclose the items that are to be given closed session treatment”.
“It is generally not sufficient to recite the exception or reference ‘litigation’ or ‘legal advice’ in a generic way, as this fails to meet the minimum requirement to provide the general nature of the matter to be considered”.
Council has since ordered up a review, expected in June, of its closed-door meeting protocols.
The events of the past ten days have eroded Marianne Meed Ward’s carefully crafted City Hall façade. Since becoming Mayor, she has repeatedly claimed that, under her leadership, this Council is gets along better than the last. But, another City Hall observer and columnist Pepper Parr wrote on the weekend that there is another side to the story.
“Those close to what happens at city hall have known for some time how fractured this council has become”.
Also, the fact that the public criticism of closed-door meetings is happening under Meed Ward’s leadership, stands in stark contrast to her repeated rhetoric about transparency in local government. During her 2018 election campaign she promised to “Rationalize and restrict the reasons for Council holding closed meetings”.
Tuesday night she repeated her certainty that, when it comes to closed door meetings, her Council has followed all the rules.
Story and commentary by Rick Craven