Councillors vote to reprimand Sergio Morales in wake of integrity commissioner report

Morales is required to write a letter of apology

Barrie city councillors voted unanimously at Monday’s meeting to support a report by the integrity commissioner (IC) and reprimand Councillor Sergio Morales for violating the Code of Conduct. Morales was called out by the IC for personal attacks against Councillor Keenan Aylwin during a heated debate at a meeting last August.

Morales will be required to write an apology to Aylwin within five days for what the report said were personal attacks not permitted under the code.

Morales rejected the findings.

The IC became involved following a complaint from Aylwin over an Aug. 10 meeting in which Shak Edwards made a deputation to councillors seeking a $40,000 grant to help open a youth centre.

After her presentation, council asked staff to meet with Shak’s World to work through more of what her plan entailed.

During the debate that followed, Aylwin brought up the matter of systemic racism and appeared to suggest it was part of the decision-making process in denying Edwards, who is black, the money.

“I now live in fear that any time I don’t vote in a way Aylwin feels is acceptable that I’m going to be lectured, lambasted and attacked,” Morales commented in response to Aylwin. “You have continually shown you’re not a leader. The focus should be on Shak’s World. The very subtle implication city hall, municipal government, and by extension us as a council, were showing biases or prejudices tied to systemic racism, that’s an insult to Edwards and to us.”

Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig told council at Monday’s meeting that she suspended the mediation process between the two parties after Morales did not respond on several occasions after she had requested information, and that she heard from him on Mar. 9 where he acknowledged there were circumstances that prevented him from responding to several email requests from her office.

“While I acknowledge that this has been a challenging time for everyone, including the respondent, the respondents lack of response amounted to non-compliance with the code.”

Craig made it clear why she felt Morales was in the wrong.

“Even if the respondent believed that the complainants’ comments at the August 10 committee meeting were inappropriate, and were an example of a pattern of behaviour that the respondent wanted him to cease,” Craig told council. “levelling comments about the individual and not the issue ran afoul of the code.”

Councillor Mike McCann urged Aylwin to pull back on the matter with the expectation Morales would still provide an apology letter.

“I think we need some healing around the table,” said Aylwin in response to McCann’s request. “And I believe that you can’t have healing without accountability. I believe in accountability and I will be supporting the recommendations because of it.”

During his response to the findings, Morales said he could have filed a complaint on the complainant for the August comments.

“Why didn’t I do it? I decided that it just was not worth it. We need to move on between these petty things,” he told council.

Morales also said he was of the understanding someone else was going to file a complaint against Aylwin.

“Because that filing never happened, the deadline has now expired. So now the complainant cannot face accountability for his initial comments that started all of this.”

Morales said as the pattern of behaviour continued, he approached Mayor Jeff Lehman and claimed he was told things would change. Morales noted that nothing had changed.

Prior to council’s vote on the report, Morales said every single member of council with the exception of the complainant and one other councillor on the night he made the comments either called, texted or emailed him, or told him in their office, that they agreed with what he had said, and that they felt the same way.

“If those eight members of council still have those feelings, then you have an opportunity to vote tonight to reaffirm what you expressed to me that night.”

Councillor Barry Ward argued there was no good reason to reject the findings of the integrity commissioner.

“We have a Code of Conduct for a reason. It was quite clear from the report from the integrity commissioner that he (Morales) broke the code of conduct.” Ward said in explaining his decision. “We can argue about whether there should have been a complaint laid or not. That’s not something we can debate. It was quite clear he (Morales) broke the Code of Conduct and there’s some consequences. It’s not the end of the world.”

Councillor Clare Riepma said Craig’s recommendations were reasonable.

“We always, I think, have to remember that we are welcome to attack the position, but not the person. I think that’s a really important distinction.”