Integrity Commissioner Presents Report On Manotick BIA To Council

City of Ottawa Integrity Commissioner Karen Shepherd presented her report on the conduct of the Manotick BIA from 2018-22 during the Ottawa City Council meeting Wed., Oct. 18.

“As Integrity Commissioner for the City of Ottawa, I am responsible for the application of the Code of Conduct for Members of Local Boards, which includes receiving and investigating complaints about whether a member of a local board has contravened the Code of Conduct. In this case, I received five formal complaints respecting the conduct of members of the Manotick Business Improvement Area (MBIA) Board of Management,” she said.

Shepherd said she received a total of five formal complaints from two individuals, who were also the respondents to one of the formal complaints. Two formal complaints were dismissed at intake as being outside of her jurisdiction to investigate. Shepherd proceeded with an investigation into the three remaining formal complaints.

The report did not name any of the members of the Manotick BIA’s management team that was in place during that time, instead referring to them as Complainant 1,2 and 3, and Respondent 1, 2 and 3.

The first complaint involved allegations concerning the conduct of Respondent 1. They include:

  • Improperly received/failed to disclose a payment of $500 from the MBIA for volunteering as Vice-Chair during the MBIA Christmas festivities on two occasions (November 2019 and December 2022);
  • Harassed Complainant 1 through emails (some of which were curt and aggressive), manipulation and use of threats; and
  • Failed to follow due process when she allegedly self-appointed herself as Chair of the MBIA and attempted to remove Complainant 1 as Chair and director of the MBIA Board of Management.

The allegations concerning the conduct of Respondent 2, are summarized as follows:

  • Bullied and harassed Complainant 1 in her role as Chair for the MBIA;
  • Failed to declare a conflict of interest – Recused himself from the hiring process [for the new BIA Executive Director] very late in the process; however, asserted his opinion at a Board meeting about the situation, and when reminded he had recused himself from the process, denied it; and
  • Sent all MBIA communications to his lawyer then threatened Complainant 1 about the contents of the communications.

The allegations concerning the conduct of Respondent 3, are summarized as follows:

  • Bullied Executive Directors of the MBIA;
  • Exhibited inappropriate conduct in relation to other individuals, including other members of the MBIA Board of Management; and
  • Misspent MBIA funds, including on personal gifts that other members of the MBIA received.

Shepherd said the first two formal complaints were filed with her office on December 2, 2022 and the other three formal complaints were filed on December 8, 2022.

Respondent 3, through her legal counsel, challenged Shepherd’s jurisdiction to receive and investigate a formal complaint concerning her conduct as a member of the MBIA Board. Respondent 3 stated that she had been removed from the MBIA Board before the formal complaint was filed and subsequently that she had resigned.

“As part of my intake analysis, I specifically considered whether Respondent 3 was a sitting member of the MBIA Board when the formal complaint concerning her conduct was filed on December 2, 2022,” stated Shepherd. “This was an important consideration because, on November 21, 2022, members of the MBIA Board held a vote by e-mail to remove Respondent 3 from the Board while an investigation proceeded.

According to the report, a number of members of the Board Directors met on November 21, 2022 to discuss certain anomalies found in Petty cash charges that were never disclosed or approved by the Board. Given that these expenditures were made under the leadership of [Respondent 3], as the Board Chair of the Manotick BIA, it has been proposed that she be temporarily removed from any Chair or Director function until this matter has been investigated and resolved.

The board voted in favour of a resolution to remove [Respondent 3] as the Manotick BIA Chair and Board Director and the appointment of an interim Chair.

Shepherd conducted her interviews for the report between May 24 and August 11, 2023. She completed the report Oct. 4, 2023.

‘Little girl’

Shepherd also detailed that Complainant 1 was often referred to as “Little girl” by Respondent 2 at BIA meetings.

The report stated that regarding the context in which Respondent 2 used the term, Complainant 1 described: “…[Respondent 2]’ll say: “That’s enough little girl. Can we move on.”

In the report, Complainant 1 further described: “It made me feel so insecure to talk. I didn’t even know what I was going to say next and what he was going to do. My meetings when he wasn’t there were actually really productive and we were all OK. But when he was there it  just…as time went off it just got more and more and like, the funny thing is nobody stopped him from saying that or acting that way.”

The report added that Complainant 1 described thinking: “If he keeps calling me little girl and smashing his arms on the desk every time he wanted to make a point or he didn’t get his point across, then everybody would start doing that and I have to stop him.”

Respondent 2’s evidence is as follows:

  • He never called Complainant 1 a “little girl.” If he did so, he has no recollection of doing it.
  • He was aware of the importance of the position and “perceived influence it carried within the context of the organization” and would not minimize the position by using the phrase “little girl.”
  • He believes everybody should be left with their worth not being diminished “in any ways or means.” He would not diminish anybody in public. He does not do that and has never done that.
  • His conduct during meetings was always appropriate. He was not inappropriate with his comments, demeanor, or addressing other people.
  • From his perspective, it got to the point with Complainant 1 that unless you agreed with her, she was diminished or demeaned. “That was the vibe that she gave off.”

Three of the seven witnesses interviewed by Shepherd said they heard Respondent 2 call Complainant 1 “little girl”.

Manotick Messenger advertisement

The report outlined a formal complaint contained an allegation about an inappropriate Manotick Messenger article or advertisement. Complainant 2’s evidence is that Respondent 3 wrote and submitted a full-page article about the Manotick Women’s Day event in November 2022. Complainant 2 explained that the article only speaks of Respondent 3 and her business, thanks Witness 12, her colleague and friend, and does not mention the BIA’s two Executive Directors of the MBIA Board. The Complainant alleged that Respondent 3 asked for the article to run twice and billed to the MBIA.

Complainant 2 explained that Respondent 3 and Witness 12 are not involved in the organizing of Women’s Day in Manotick and this event has nothing to do with individual businesses. Complainant 2 felt strongly that the Executive Directors needed to be thanked for their work. According to Complainant 2, the article was brought to her attention by another local business owner who indicated other business owners were upset by the article because it wasn’t properly thanking people who should have been thanked.

A copy of the invoice for the article was obtained through the investigation. The invoice confirms the MBIA paid for the November 18 article but does not indicate whether the article was expected to run in one or two cycles of the newspaper.

In response to the allegation, Respondent 3’s evidence is that she placed an article/advertisement in the December 16, 2022 issue of the Manotick Messenger and it was not related to Manotick’s Women’s Day events. Respondent 3 indicated the article was a personal advertisement in which Respondent 3 thanked members of the community for their support during her time as Chair for the MBIA. Respondent 3 provided documentation that confirmed that she personally paid for one cycle of the December 16th advertisement. As the article was paid for personally, Respondent 3 maintained that she was under no obligation to mention the executive directors of the MBIA in the advertisement.

The evidence confirms there were two separate advertisements: one on November 18and another on December 16. As Complainant 2 described, the November 18advertisement speaks of Manotick’s Women’s Day event. The article makes general reference to the significant effort required to organize the event and a general thank you to the local businesses. The article also includes a general thank you to volunteers and specifically names three individuals, including Witness 12. The two Executive Directors are not named in the article. The article ends with Respondent 3’s signature which includes her professional title and business, followed by her title as Chair of the MBIA.

As Respondent 3 described, the December 16 advertisement was a thank you/farewell letter to the community. In the advertisement, Respondent 3 recognizes many groups and individuals who supported her and the MBIA during her eight years as Chair. The advertisement concludes with Respondent 3’s signature, this time only including her professional title and business.

“While the November 18 advertisement mentions Respondent 3’s business and her professional colleague (Witness 12), I do not find that this constitutes misconduct,” stated Shepherd.

In her conclusion, Shepherd stated that she found the conduct of two of the respondents contravened section(s) of the Code of Conduct.

“BIA members serve on the Boards of Management in a voluntary capacity. For this reason, I have not considered a suspension of remuneration as a potential penalty in either case.

“Respondent 2 has been a member of the MBIA for many years. He occupied the role of Chair for four terms and held the position in high regard. However, Respondent 2 undermined and bullied the Chair on several occasions. Respondent 2 acknowledged l, that in one instance his lack of email etiquette showed his frustration, and indicated that, on occasion, to make a point, “one has to be a little more forceful about it.” Respondent 2 continues to sit on the MBIA Board.

“I recommend that the MBIA issue a reprimand to Respondent 2. This is a fair sanction in light of the repeated violation of decorum rules in place to ensure a safe and respectful environment for board members, and for staff.

“In respect of Respondent 3, I do not recommend any penalty or remedial measures in response to contraventions of the Code of Conduct. Respondent 3 is no longer a member of the MBIA. For this reason, issuing a reprimand does not serve a practical purpose and imposing remedial measures is beyond the authority of the MBIA.

“Beyond penalties and remedial measures, I recommend the development of training and policies to support BIA members in their public function. The investigation revealed that many members misunderstood roles and meeting procedures. The investigation also identified areas where detailed policies and procedures would establish better accountability and transparency (e.g., appropriate expenses, expectations for engaging in work-related communications outside of normal business hours, procedures for hiring BIA staff, etc.)”