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Few details available in follow up to Coun. Sean Chu informal resolution

Little, if any, information is being made available around Coun. Sean Chu’s informal resolution with Calgary’s Integrity commissioner.

Last week, LWC learned that Section 79 of the Code of Conduct for Elected Officials was exercised with Chu in relation to a photograph taken of Mayor Jyoti Gondek’s licence plate in a secured executive garage.

Section 79 allows the Integrity Commissioner to determine if a complaint requires a formal investigation. They can also determine if the issue can “be more promptly and efficiently resolved” informally by the ethics advisor.  The ethics advisor can then consult with the complainant and the council member involved to come to an informal resolution.

The City of Calgary had previous confirmed they were the complainant in the matter.

“City Administration made a complaint of conduct related to a breach of security to the Integrity Commissioner and an informal resolution was decided on and reached,” an emailed statement from earlier this week read.

“This addressed Administration’s security concern.”

The City’s e-mail then directed LWC to Coun. Chu to talk publicly about the informal resolution.

When asked, Chu said he said he wasn’t asked if he agreed to the process. He said it wasn’t left up to him.

“The city made the decision,” he said.

Chu then directed further questions to the city’s Integrity Commissioner, Ellen-Anne O’Donnell.

An email request, with questions, was sent to O’Donnell. There was a prompt response.

“Unfortunately I am unable to help you.  As a quasi-judicial decision-maker, I am unable to speak with the media or provide information,” the response read.

Chu did apologize in council, but didn’t want to “bore” the public with details on why he did it. He was moved from some committees, stripped of deputy mayor duties and had to take a couple of ethics related courses as a sanction.

Independent oversight body

LWC asked the City how often Section 79 (informal resolution) had been used.  City admin said they couldn’t speak to historical information, situations, or decision involving the city’s Integrity and Ethics office as the Integrity Commissioner and Ethics Advisor are an independent oversight body for city council.

“As an arm’s length function, the Integrity Commissioner and Ethics Advisor cannot speak publicly regarding any current concerns, pending complaints or investigations,” they wrote in an email response.

“Investigation reports are only made public if the Integrity Commissioner determines that a Member of Council violated the Code of Conduct, and the matter has not been resolved informally.”

The City said the Integrity Commissioner reports publicly to council. They directed LWC to annual reports. The reports are very broad in how they outline complaints to council.

More reading – Nov. 27 letter from North Haven Community Association, to Premier Danielle Smith and Mayor Jyoti Gondek, saying they refuse to work with Coun. Sean Chu

The annual reports don’t break out those complaints against councillors that were resolved through Section 79. It does, however, make reference to complaints that were resolved without further action required. That may also be because they were not a breach of the code of conduct or other policies, or resolved informally.

Nineteen files between 2018 and 2019 were dealt with by complaint dismissal or an agreed resolution. Informal resolution isn’t mentioned specifically. The 2020 report isn’t clear on informal resolutions.  In 2017, two complaints against a individuals employed by a member were dealt with as the member determined.

Interesting, 2016’s report to council provides better clarity that would align with an informal resolution. In that year, of 17 complaints made, one resulted in a report to council and two went to the ethics advisor and there was a mediated resolution.

The criterion for investigation versus informal resolution

In our questions, we asked the Integrity Commissioner what differentiates a complaint from being investigated and going public, and being resolved informally.  She was unable to answer that question.

The only clue may lie in Section 80, which says that if any concerned party doesn’t want an informal resolution, the Integrity Commissioner must investigate. If that happens, the outcome gets reported publicly through council.

If a matter is resolved informally, neither details on the complaint, nor resolution, require public reporting.  The only detail that’s come out on this matter was the result of the mayor divulging it to councillors, then local media. That was done in a closed session when decisions were being made on Coun. Chu’s eligibility for committee roles and deputy mayor duties.   

LWC has confirmed that the photograph was taken on the same day as protests outside the mayor’s Calgary home in January. The mayor, in a media conference right after she made details public, said that it was difficult to come forward with this – even after nearly a year – out of fear.

She followed those comments up last weekend.

“The fact that I didn’t make a complaint, and I made it public what this person had done – I didn’t have restrictions on me about having filed a confidential complaint,” she said at a Calgary Food Bank event earlier this month.

“Now you know the situation and you know what I’ve had to live with for the last 11 months.”

When asked again recently about the informal resolution, the mayor redirected questions back to Coun. Chu.  She didn’t want it to distract from the budget matters before them.

Coun. Kourtney Penner has said that when she heard the term informal resolution, it raised “red flags” on the code of conduct reporting structure.

“I think it begs the question on what should and shouldn’t come to the Integrity Commissioner, and what channels and how that should be reported to council,” she said.