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Investigation of a councillor conduct complaint produces large bill

Council Code of Conduct investigation costs County of Barrhead taxpayers close to $40,000
County of Barrhead manager Debbie Oyarzun explained to councillors during the Jan. 16 council meeting about some of the costs involved in a councillor code of conduct investigation that took place in the late summer and early fall.

BARRHEAD - The investigation into a code of conduct complaint against a County of Barrhead councillor came with a price tag bordering on $40K.

During the Jan. 16 council meeting, the administration released the final figures showing how the investigation into a complaint against Div. 4 Coun. Bill Lane cost the municipality $36,959.67 — councillors passed the report for information.

On Oct. 4, councillors sanctioned Lane finding he was guilty of violating five sections of the county's council code of conduct policy stemming from a complaint administration received on Aug. 16.

The county never released the nature of the complaint due to privacy concerns for the complainant and Lane.

Sanctions included a letter of reprimand, temporarily banning Lane from county-owned facilities except for regular council meetings. He was also temporarily removed from any council-sanctioned committee or boards, except for the emergency management committee and the municipal planning commission, which consists of the entire council.

Perhaps the most salient sanction was a respectful workplace training course that Lane was ordered to take. Upon completion of his training in mid-November, council removed all sanctions.

County manager Debbie Oyarzun noted that the $2,000 cost for the course, as defined in the municipality's council code of conduct bylaw, was taken from Lane's Division 4 annual education fund. The $4,000 fund allows councillors to take training courses and attend conferences and seminars deemed helpful for carrying out their duties.

However, because there was a $1,442.77 shortfall in Lane's 2022 education budget as, per a previous council resolution, this amount will be deducted from Lane's 2023 education allotment.

Oyarzun also noted that as per the councillor code of conduct Bylaw, and clarified by a council supporting resolution, Lane did not receive any per diems for attending the course and all other expenses, such as travel, food, or lodging, were his responsibility.

Oyarzun also outlined the cost of the process, which took just under three months to complete.

Neuman Thompson LLP received $17,845.92 to conduct the investigation and produce the subsequent report.

And Oyarzun added that to ensure the process was "fair to all parties involved", the county enlisted Hutchison Law, who billed the municipality $19,113.75.

Although the general government services department, which council expenditures fall under, does not have a specific budget for legal fees, she noted the department was under budget in 2022, and therefore, the investigation and associated legal fees will be taken from the surplus.

"It is unfortunate that taxpayers' money had to go to this," Lane said, adding that he believed the entire process should not have been necessary.

 Reeve Doug Drozd thanked administration for bringing the report to the council's attention.

"It reaffirms the need for us as councillors to continue to act as professionals in our role because you can see how the costs can add up very quickly," he said. 

History of the process

Council first discussed the non-specified complaint during an in-camera session at its Aug. 16 meeting, followed by two more special in-camera meetings on Aug. 19 and Aug. 25. 

It was at the Aug. 19 that the council deemed there was enough information or evidence to proceed with a formal investigation, while the Aug. 25 meeting dealt with determining who would lead the independent investigation.

On Sept. 20, in another closed-door session, Neuman Thompson LLP presented its report to the council, in which Lane had the opportunity to respond to the complaint in person, but he chose to submit a written response. On Oct. 4, the council, in its final in-camera session, with the help of its lawyers drafted its decision sanctioning Lane.

Barry Kerton,


Barry Kerton

About the Author: Barry Kerton

Barry Kerton is the managing editor of the Barrhead Leader, joining the paper in 2014. He covers news, municipal politics and sports.
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