It was some of the strongest language heard at Burlington City Council in many, many years.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Councillor Shawna Stolte bitterly accused Mayor Marianne Meed Ward of arbitrarily manipulating the agenda.
“It is entirely inappropriate that you make an attempt to bring that (agenda item) forward now and turn it into yet another political circus for your own selfish gain and I think you should be ashamed of yourself”.
Meed Ward momentarily appeared to be taken aback by the accusations.
Later, Stolte added to her frustration with the Mayor.
“It really saddens and distresses me that we have a head of Council who continually seeks out opportunities to cause quarrels and distress at the expense of the honest and genuine work of Councillors……..I am concerned that the Mayor’s behavior has only served to taint and cheapen what was meant to be a positive and collaborative closure”.
The angry words related to an apology that had been scheduled to take place at the meeting. A staff member was unhappy with a comment made by Stolte during an April news interview. She felt the comments impugned her character and reputation. Stolte was willing to make the apology, but at the end of the meeting under the traditional heading of “Statements by Members”. The Mayor wanted it up front.
What followed was about 15 minutes of tense debate over procedures and council rules.
“The Integrity Commissioner deemed that it was not appropriate to come before council, which it sounds as though you have taken it upon yourself to do of your own accord. That’s entirely unprofessional”, said Stolte.
“The staff member has asked for this to be made public. The staff member has asked for this to be dealt with at the top of the meeting. It is the Mayor’s prerogative to do that at the request of a staff member. I’m going to proceed”, said Meed Ward while asking that Stolte’s comments about her integrity be stricken from the record.
Meed Ward claimed that everyone knew prior to the meeting that the agenda would be re-arranged because the staff member wanted the apology at the beginning of the meeting so that her staff colleagues could hear it. She then opened the floor for Stolte to make her apology. There was no reply.
Council then when in to closed session. When it returned the Mayor had left the meeting to attend a family graduation event. Interestingly, Stolte, who was Deputy Mayor, took over the meeting, went through the agenda and then, at the end, offered the controversial public apology.
Stolte said it was never her intention to cause distress. She felt her comments to the reporter were casual background for what she assumed would be an edited news article.
“Had I understood that my general and casual comments were to be printed verbatim in a series of articles I certainly would have taken greater care to ensure that the explanation of my own experiences did not have any potential to negatively impact others”.
Stolte went on to explain that the staff member felt that the quote suggested the staff person had been rude to the Councillor. She acknowledged the concern and that her comments could have been misinterpreted, but claimed that was not what she intended to communicate. “I regret any misunderstanding”. She went on to describe the staff member as highly professional, collaborative and polite. She said that after learning of the staff member’s concern she immediately apologized, but the staff member requested that the apology be made public in order to protect her reputation.
There has been a history of tension between Stolte and Meed Ward, particularly related to the definition of closed-door meetings.
Tuesday’s squabble further undermined Meed Ward’s long held position that, under her leadership, this Council gets along better than the last.
Last year there was disagreement about the cumbersome manner in which the Mayor handled the rainbow sidewalk issue.
Rick Craven is a former Burlington City Councillor representing Ward One, Aldershot