Editor's note: This article has been amended to include Councillor Steve Berman's name on the list of complainants.
The town’s integrity commissioner has ruled former councillor, Tina Comi, breached the code of conduct during a closed virtual meeting in the summer.
Comi resigned her seat on council on Jan. 21, penning a letter to the community and informing the clerk’s office at about the same time. Comi didn’t state in her letter why she resigned.
On Jan. 27, the town posted the council package for the Jan. 31 meeting, which includes a report from Principles Integrity finding Comi breached the town’s code of conduct, and recommending she take training on in-camera sessions and confidentiality.
The training will not have to take place since Comi is no longer on council.
Principles Integrity reported receiving complaints on August 25, 2021 from five members of council (Councillors Deb Doherty, Kathy Jeffery, Bob Madigan, Mariane McLeod, and Mayor Brian Saunderson) alleging Comi was speaking with someone during a virtual in-camera meeting, which is meant to be confidential.
Councillor Steve Berman confirmed to CollingwoodToday.ca he was also among the councillors who signed the complaint.
The meeting took place on July 19, 2021, and the agenda for that night notes an in-camera session for discussions on a pending acquisition or disposal of land, solicitor-client privilege, and council training.
A written response by Comi on Dec. 17 to address the allegations states her 11-year-old son walked into her home office during the in-camera meeting to tell Comi her daughter, 14, was not home from sports practice at the usual time and he was concerned about her whereabouts.
“My very brief interaction with my child caused no disruption to the training, as I was muted,” said Comi.
A letter from a lawyer representing Comi argued no confidential matter was being discussed when her son interrupted the meeting.
“Councillors were being advised as to the purpose and requirements of in-camera meetings” states the lawyer’s letter.
The integrity commissioner’s report confirmed this was the discussion during the portion of the in-camera meeting in question, but also stated it was a confidential meeting under the definition of the municipal act and code of conduct.
“There is some irony in the fact that council was obtaining additional guidance on this very subject … when Councillor Comi’s child entered the office area of her home,” states the report.
According to the report, Comi told council her son came in the room when she was “pointedly asked” and said something along the lines of “what’s a parent to do.”
The integrity commissioner categorized Comi’s response as “sarcastic, unnecessary, and dismissive,” and stated it could be likened to “making a mountain from a molehill.”
“To many of her fellow council members, her unapologetic response and her claim … rang hollow,” states the report. “Had she simply apologized and committed to take more appropriate steps for future in camera meetings, it is doubtful the complaints would have been filed.”
The complaints made to the integrity commissioner also referenced Comi’s social media activity that night.
“When called out on the concern of the presence of an unauthorized person, it is alleged that Coun. Comi took to social media complaining about the exchange,” states the report.
A tweet posted by Comi on July 19, 2021 reads: “Tonight’s council meeting was also a reminder women continue to wear the stigma of ‘figure it out.’ We say we want working moms at the table, but how many truly want to offer support? Spoiler alert - not many.”
A previous tweet indicated her daughter was home an hour late because she was enjoying her paddle lessons.
Principles Integrity found the social media exchange did not constitute a breach of the code of conduct, but did indicate an “unapologetic tone” and “sarcasm.”
Since the town’s code of conduct requires council members to maintain confidentiality for in-camera meetings, the integrity commissioner said Comi’s son entering the room during a closed meeting is a “technical breach” of the code.
“Under normal circumstances, it would likely never result in a complaint and would certainly not give rise to an investigation and a recommendation report,” stated the Principles Integrity findings. “However, the complaints filed … are a reaction to the fact that the incident occurred during a session … to reinforce the need to properly protect the security of confidential information discussed during in-camera meetings.”
The commissioner’s report indicated that in cases where there was a contravention of a code of conduct, but the member takes reasonable measures to prevent it, or the contravention was trivial, or committed in error but in good faith, no penalty would be recommended.
In this case, however, citing Comi didn’t take “common-sense steps” such as asking for a recess, turning off the sound, or leaving the meeting. The commissioner is recommending Comi attend training provided by the integrity commissioner on a council’s obligation to maintain confidentiality, and that she not chair a meeting until then.
The recommendations are moot, as Comi has already resigned from council.
The full report by Principles Integrity is available here.
CollingwoodToday has reached out to Tina Comi for further comments.