As much as Ward 14 Councillor Terry Whitehead has been his own worst enemy in his conduct during council meetings over the years it is very unfortunate to see the Councilor’s personal difficulties played out in such a public forum as was demonstrated at this week’s council meeting. Current and past members of council will know that Whitehead has always been aggressive in his dealings with staff at council meetings, before his health issues became known. He liked to adopt a cross-examination posture—firing questions at staff to prove the point he was trying to make. Often they were questions that staff were not prepared for, and thus became rhetorical questions. Maybe the aggressive tone stems from his family history of hard-rock mining and union activity.
But in the past more than a year, we have been watching a man struggling to express himself coherently, his frustration exacerbated by frequent technical issues that hamper his ability to participate in remote meetings. His aggressive questioning of staff increased as did his frequent interjections over other councillors and his increasing use of points of order and challenges to the chair. The integrity commissioner has detailed his disturbing behaviour towards staff both at council meetings and in private encounters. Even in his abortive attempt to participate in this week’s council meeting he acknowledged that he had no quarrel with the Integrity Commissioner’s findings, and announced that he will be seeking another medical leave, after missing much of 2021 in an earlier medical leave.
When an individual behaves in the workplace in a manner that creates fear in colleagues and staff it becomes a workplace health and safety issue. So, the actions taken by council this week to limit Whitehead’s access to City Hall and to staff are warranted. Since the measure met with widespread approval, however, it might have been better if the motion had been moved by someone other than Councillor Wilson, who is listed as a board member of the Hamilton Centre for Civic Inclusion, an organization headed by Kojo Damptey, who is currently a candidate for Whitehead’s seat on council.
We don’t know if Terry Whitehead intends to run for re-election, but with the clock ticking towards the closure of nominations, he has to consider whether it is likely, after struggling with his health for as long as he has, whether he can sufficiently recover to undergo the rigors of a campaign and another term on council. Terry Whitehead, before joining council, occupied responsible positions as chief of staff of the late Mayor Bob Morrow and as a senior adviser to cabinet minister Sheila Copps. He has served his community and his constituents effectively, as demonstrated by repeatedly winning re-election by significant margins. We join Mayor Fred Eisenberger in hoping Terry Whitehead will eventually make a full recovery, but in the meantime we hope he might consider whether this is time to focus all his energies on that task.