Powassan adviser escapes punishment after code of conduct probe


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A Powassan town councilor has avoided any sanction or penalty after the local town council rejected a resolution accepting an integrity commissioner finding that Debbie Piekarski had breached the Powassan township’s code of conduct.

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In his ruling filed March 17, Integrity Commissioner David King left it to the board to decide what kind of punishment Piekarski should face.

However, a resolution introduced by the Council. Markus Wand calling on council to accept King’s report and for Piekarski to donate two months of his council salary to a local community organization was defeated by a tie vote 2-2.

The Council has reached this final stage in a series of complex twists and turns over several months.
A recent decision saw Wand try to present his motion at a council meeting in June only to never see it debated because no one would support it.

At the July meeting, Wand told his colleagues that the matter needed to be discussed.

Following the failure of the June meeting to present the resolution, Wand said people were asking him what happened with the lawsuit filed against Piekarski.

“Some people felt like he was swept under the rug,” Wand said.

“The optics of this are not good. When things aren’t discussed at the table, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly, the blame goes out the window.

Wand added that while individual board members cannot be held accountable for the code of conduct, “our taxpayers have no confidence that they have the right people at the (board) table.”

Wand said just because someone is seconding a motion doesn’t mean they’re in favor of it — it just allows the issue to be properly debated.

This set the stage for Mayor Peter McIsaac to temporarily hand over the mayor’s chair to Deputy Mayor Randy Hall so McIsaac could support the resolution.

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McIsaac agreed with Wand about how people viewed the integrity commission issue and how city staff interpreted council’s reluctance to deal with it.

“I was told by a staff member that we discipline the staff but protect our own (board members),” McIsaac said.

“It hit hard.”

Once the debate began, Piekarski weighed in on the matter last, saying “I don’t think I did anything wrong,” then she lit up at the council.

“I’m disappointed with how the board handled this from the start,” Piekarski said.

The Piekarski case involves comments she made at a Dec. 7 board meeting regarding arena operations where she wanted the board to review ice rentals to ensure facilities are properly leased by staff.

His comments prompted local businessman Evan Hughes to file a complaint with the Integrity Commission because he claimed Piekarski was suggesting that arena staff were renting ice time at preferential rates to some users and not to others depending on who you were.

After King investigated the matter, he discovered that without any factual information, Piekarski had unnecessarily slandered arena operations staff and also failed to build public confidence in the management of Powassan Arenas. .

King’s investigation of Piekarski was one of two.

He also investigated Deputy Mayor Randy Hall’s behavior in a separate complaint filed by Hughes, which again focused on arena operations at the same Dec. 7 council meeting.

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What King found was that Hall failed to exercise due diligence when he raised questions about the arena and as a result his comments did not build public confidence in the government. Powassan local.

But King added that Hall did not engage in an abuse of power.

King further concluded that Hall did not attempt to intimidate anyone, nor harass, verbally insult, or treat anyone negatively.

However, in an effort to put his case to rest, Hall suggested, and the board accepted, his recommendation at an April board meeting that he transfer two months of his board salary ($1,000) to the Trout Creek Children’s Booster Club.

But at the June board meeting, Piekarski said asking Hall to pay for his comments financially was a mistake.
Piekarski said the board was wrong to pass the April resolution because Hall “said something that annoyed somebody or ticked somebody off.”

“But that’s what we did with Coun. Hall,” Piekarski said.

“To make it disappear, give us $1,000 and you’re done. I can’t be part of it.

Piekarski added that by passing the resolution that penalized Hall, the council “let the community and each other down.”

Several months ago, Piekarski hired a lawyer to help rebut the Integrity Commissioner’s findings against her, and in a four-page letter, HG Elston detailed three points where the council should not accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report.

Piekarski asked his board colleagues if anyone could tell him what those three points were.

When no one responded to his challenge, Piekarski said “you’re going to be judgmental tonight and you haven’t even looked the other way.”

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Piekarski then read Elston’s full letter which stated that the Integrity Commissioner’s report contained several legal errors and that the code of conduct had been misapplied.

Piekarski stood by his position and said, “I did nothing wrong and I don’t see how you can find me breaking the code of conduct.”

In response to the board’s treatment of Hall at the April meeting, McIsaac said “nobody wanted to throw the hammer at anybody,” adding that’s what Hall wanted.

McIsaac then reminded the board that at the same April board meeting, he told Hall that the $1,000 recommended as a penalty was “too much.”

When it came time to vote, Wand and McIsaac elected to accept the Integrity Commissioner’s report and have Piekarski donate $1,000 to a local group, but Hall and Coun. Dave Britton voted against.

Piekarski abstained in the tie vote.

Without a majority, the resolution was defeated and Piekarski received no penalty.

And because acceptance of the Integrity Commissioner’s report was included in the same resolution, once the motion was defeated, it automatically meant that the board did not accept the report.

Rocco Frangione is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works at the North Bay Nugget. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

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