Councillor Jeromy Farkas said he won’t apologize in private or public even after councillors voted to uphold sanctions against him recommended by the city’s integrity commissioner.
In Tuesday’s strategic meeting of council, councillors reviewed integrity commissioner Sal LoVecchio’s report into a 2018 complaint over Coun. Farkas’s Facebook post showing two council voting cards.
In the first voting card, it shows council voting 9-6 against a 2019 freeze in council pay. The second showed a filled in voting card with a “5% council pay cut.” The issue, for which the complaint was filed, was that pay cut vote was never actually brought to the floor because it didn’t have a seconder.
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According to LoVecchio’s report, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi said that he’s requested Coun. Farkas remove the post. This was because with the most current Alberta Weekly Earnings Information, to which council compensation is tied, would result in a pay cut anyway.
The report does go on to say that a portion of the post was correct.
“Given the confusion on the facts, I was concerned that issue was now misplaced. Councillor Farkas posted a sheet from a vote pad which on its face is misleading – no such vote took place. The post does have a disclaimer but all that does is potentially confuse the reader,” LoVecchio wrote in the report.
“If no vote took place, and you say that, why in the same post show a photo of a sheet from a vote pad suggesting to the reader a vote did take place and you were outvoted 14-1?”
Calgary integrity commissioner LoVecchio’s ruling
LoVecchios report talks about the process and the length of the investigation, given that the city’s former Ethics Advisor, Alice Woolley, had left to take a seat on Alberta’s Court of Queen’s Bench and the city had advised Coun. Farkas to obtain outside counsel at the city’s expense.
Despite the length of the investigation, LoVecchio was very clear in his ruling.
“Ruling on this matter is quite straight forward. [sic] As I said, the post is misleading on its face and the disclaimer does not really help to eliminate the graphic impact of the vote sheet,” LoVecchio wrote.
“Providing misleading information to the public particularly when it misrepresents actions taken, or in this case not taken, by the members of Council, in my view undermines public confidence in City governance.”
LoVecchio said that Coun. Farkas’s behaviour breached council’s Code of Conduct.
The posts should be pulled, and an apology be made. The report said that because the post was pulled, “he should apologize unequivocally.”
“As I said already, in our meeting he said that he did not intend to hurt the Mayor and the other members of Council. If that were a true assertion, apologizing will be the easiest thing in the world for him to do,” wrote LoVecchio.
‘And for the record, I stand by what I said. I do not apologize.’
Coun. Farkas said he obtained a legal opinion that showed he wasn’t in contravention of the council’s Code of Conduct. The opinion, according to Coun. Farkas, also said that he shouldn’t have been removed from the meeting. He said it was undemocratic.
In Monday’s meeting, Coun. Farkas went on to say that he sent a letter to councillors in December 2019, saying the matter was resolved.
“I’m certain Calgarians will not stand idly by and watch this happen,” Farkas told councillors.
“And for the record, I stand by what I said. I do not apologize.”
Earlier in the day, Coun. Farkas had also delivered a post suggesting there was a secret meeting to discuss potential punishments. He suggested it was being done at a time when Calgarians are “fighting for their lives.”
Some councillors took issue with this, saying that according to the city council Code of Conduct, when a report is issued, it’s to come to a closed meeting of council at the next available opportunity.
“So, there is nothing whatsoever here to do with members of council ganging up or trying to get this put out in the time of COVID,” said Mayor Nenshi.
“That is, I mean, I’ll be blunt. That is a lie. It is simply not true.”
The Code of Conduct, Section 90 (d,e) states that once a report is received by the city clerk, a verbal report is to be discussed at the next regular or combined meeting of council.
Problems with the investigation
After originally signing the complaint, several councillors indicated a desire to pull their name off it. In the Monday meeting, Couns., including Chu, Demong, Gondek, Magliocca and Chahal, articulated this to fellow councillors. They’d thought the issue was handled.
That original complaint was filed Dec. 17, 2018. According to Coun. Farkas, that’s been 510 days.
Section 88 of the Code of Conduct states that the Integrity Commissioner will render a decision within 90 days of the complaint. They may suspend the investigation if it’s 90 days prior to a municipal election, or if the commissioner determines that it’s not possible to complete it in that time.
Ward 14 Coun. Peter Demong said he dropped his name from the complaint months ago.
“I’m very much in agreement with Councillor Gondek that this investigation, as far as I’m concerned, really didn’t go well,” he said.
“I think we really need to go back to the terms of reference and put some kind of timeframes on investigations in place.”
Erosion in public trust
Ward 5 Coun. George Chahal said he too removed his name, but that’s because he’d has conversations with Coun. Farkas and thought the issue was behind them.
He said he was surprised it was brought to council today.
“But one thing that does concern me… was the erosion of public confidence and trust,” Chahal said.
Coun. Jeff Davison said today’s meeting was, “one of the darkest days in my short career as an elected official.”
“It is more than obvious that the trained politicians can intentionally mislead the public, with no consequences,” said Davison.
“Even worse about that, to me, is that citizens of Calgary buy it, because nobody looks beyond the surface.”
Coun. Farkas said he wouldn’t be apologizing publicly or privately.
In the meeting councillors heard that nothing is written into the bylaw to address what happens if a councillor doesn’t follow the sanctions.
Mayor Nenshi said they didn’t anticipate it because they assumed members would follow it in good faith.