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Integrity commissioner releases interim report

By Sean Chase, The Daily Observer

Submitted photo
Incorporated in 1861, the County of Renfrew is made up of 17 lower tier municipalities.

Submitted photo Incorporated in 1861, the County of Renfrew is made up of 17 lower tier municipalities.

Renfrew County's integrity commissioner will not proceed any further with a complaint by North Algona Wilberforce Mayor Deborah Farr against Warden Jennifer Murphy.

On Wednesday, Guy Giorno presented Renfrew County council with an interim report into his investigation of incidents alleged to have taken place at a North Algona Wilberforce (NAW) meeting on May 16, 2017, as well as comments Murphy allegedly made to the Eganville Leader which appeared in the paper's May 10 edition. He concluded he would not press on with the matter, or with a second complaint against Murphy from an unidentified individual involving the same incident, unless further directed by county council.

The controversy began when the Leader reported that during the May 2 meeting of NAW council, Farr claimed that Murphy had shouted across the floor of the county council chambers at Farr and chided her for not attending library events in her municipality. When the Leader contacted Murphy, who is also the mayor of Bonnechere Valley, for a comment, the warden denied any such incident took place. Murphy then attended a NAW council meeting on May 16 and publicly asked for a retraction from Farr, who finally relented and retracted her statement.

However, Farr filed a complaint with Giorno feeling the warden had contravened county council's code of conduct. She based her complaint on a phone call between herself and Murphy on May 3 in which the warden took exception to the statement that she had “shouted” at Farr. In her complaint, Farr alleges that Murphy considered the statement slanderous and that she was going to sue Farr if there was no retraction.

The matter escalated on May 16 when Murphy and Killaloe, Hagarty and Richards Mayor Janice Visneskie-Moore, who was also the deputy warden, showed up at NAW's township hall for that council's regular meeting. It was alleged by the second complainant that Murphy was working the room, as he put it, and greeted her supporters with hugs. In her complaint, Farr alleged that during the meeting when Murphy was addressing the council she turned around to one of the reporters at the media table and asked if he had to “listen to this” at other meetings. Farr charged in her complaint that Murphy played to the public gallery telling the integrity commissioner in her subsequent interview with him that because of the “very confrontational body language” from the warden and deputy warden she chose to end the discussion by retracting the statement that Murphy had found offensive in the earlier Eganville Leader story.

Giorno investigated two sections of the County Code of Conduct namely that members refrain from making judgmental or critical comments about other members, staff, or council's processes and decision; and that members refrain from speculating or reflecting upon the motives of other members. He also tried to determine if two other sections were violated– namely that every person on council be treated with dignity and respect and that members do not engage in violence or harassment of any kind.

The commissioner stated in his report that he was mindful that the complaint arose from a dispute between two politicians noting that that as long as their conduct is lawful and inside the ethical boundaries of the Code of Conduct, individual political judgments are beyond the purview of an integrity commissioner. That Murphy and Farr didn't settle their differences in private is an exercise in political judgment that Giorno said its not for an integrity commissioner to second guess. He also addressed how Murphy made her presentation to NAW council on May 16.

“Oratorical style is a matter of political judgment that an integrity commissioner cannot supervise,” Giorno stated. “The fact that Warden Murphy addressed some of her comments to the public, and not to or through the chairperson, was at most a point of order (procedural point) to be dealt with at the time, not a Code of Conduct issue.”

He added there is no evidence Murphy encouraged people to attend the May 16 meeting. The commissioner further stated he did not intend to investigate Farr's allegations about Murphy's body language or investigate the May 3 telephone call. He would also not investigate the May 2 comment made by Farr as she has since retracted it and the warden has accepted the retraction.

“This complaint flows from what one politician said about another,” Giorno concluded. “While I understand that there is a history to the proceeding, and it was alleged that other comments had been made in the past, this complaint arises from one comment at one meeting. Indeed, it flows from a single word, “shouting”.”

After Giorno handed the report to council, Farr said she was satisfied the matter had been looked at and that he had effectively mediated between herself and the warden.

“He did a very thorough job,” she said. “I'm very comfortable to have county council accept this as information.”

Murphy vacated the chair to allow Deputy Warden Kim Love to preside over this portion of the meeting. She said later she also considers the matter closed.

“It was over when she retracted the statement on May 16,” said Murphy.

SChase@postmedia.com