One week ago, as the allegations and RCMP investigation against Mayor Joe Fontana unfolded, I started a change.org petition asking the mayor to temporarily step down.
This is what the petition says:
Mayor Joe Fontana, please temporarily step down as Mayor of London until the allegations against you have been resolved. I do not believe that you can effectively lead London under these current circumstances.
We ask you to consider the same standards our community holds for other similar positions that rely on public trust such as police officers, teachers, doctors and lawyers. Stepping down, much like paid suspension, is not a declaration of guilt, but ensures the highest level of confidence in public office.
I didn’t know what to expect, but had no idea the reaction would be so immediate, and strong.
The night I started the petition, I was contacted by am980 to discuss why I started it, and what I hoped to accomplish. The next few days, I was approached by the Londoner, London Community News, Fanshawe’s radio station 106.9 the X, The Western Gazette, CJBK and CBC’s Ontario Morning. The London Free Press, Metro News London, Yahoo! News Politics and National News Watch also ran stories.
And the petition itself grew steadily. By Friday the petition had over 750 signatures, currently sitting at 797.
I am grateful for how much discussion there has been about this important issue. On Friday I decided the next step was to encourage everyone that feels strongly about this issue to contact the mayor and council to voice their opinion, and to send a letter of my own. If you’d like to contact the mayor and council, you’re completely welcome to use this as a template.
This is the letter I submitted to Council:
To the mayor and city council,
I feel that the serious allegations against the mayor and the ongoing RCMP investigation into his conduct have cast a cloud over City Council and the City of London. I support the online petition asking the mayor to temporarily step down in his duties as mayor until the issue is resolved. This petition has been supported by 759 people to date, and the numbers are increasing.
Any person holding a position of public power or influence who has been publicly accused of the misuse of such a position for any means has effectively compromised their own personal image, the integrity of their leadership capabilities, and the way visitors and residents alike view London as a place to live, work, and play.
I want to thank those members of Council that voted for allowing Councillor Branscombe’s motion to be heard before Council Tuesday night.
I am deeply concerned that so many council members voted against even hearing the motion. It is, of course, each council member’s prerogative to decide how they will vote on any given motion, but it is irresponsible to shut down debate before it has even begun, especially when it is a concern that affects all Londoners. Further, the fact that Mayor Fontana voted for this motion, even though it directly concerns him, represents a clear conflict of interest and further tarnishes citizens’ trust in the integrity of council.
Councillor Branscombe’s motion would have been an excellent opportunity for the entire Council to debate the issue with so many Londoners viewing. I hope that those that voted against the motion will reconsider, and allow a debate if the motion comes before Council again.
I ask Mayor Fontana to do the right thing and step down during the investigation process, and work to restore public faith.
Over the weekend, I received respectful and considerate replies from Councillors D. Brown, Swan and Bryant.
Councillor Stephen Orser also sent this reply, within 5 minutes of my e-mail:
I had no idea how to respond.
We deserve respect and consideration from our elected officials. When a member of our council gives a flippant and abusive response to our concerns, it only degrades faith in our local government still further. How much worse, when the abuse is from someone defending the integrity of the mayor under a cloud of investigation.
Coming back to it in the evening, I sent an e-mail to Councillor Orser with City Clerk Cathy Saunders cc’d asking for an apology and explanation. I also e-mailed Cathy to ask what I could do about it.
I have yet to receive a response from Councillor Orser.
Cathy Saunders was extremely helpful in her answers, though she apologized for not being able to do more. She told me that under section D of the current Code of Conduct, the only avenue for complaint is to the Human Rights Commission, and that’s only if there are concerns of a human rights violation.
I then asked her if Council had appointed an integrity commissioner, if that person could investigate complaints like this. She replied “If Council were to adopt a new or revised Code of Conduct, it may include a provision for an integrity commissioner to investigate, but Council will need to consider this as they review their Code of Conduct in the near future.“
We may just have the worst council ever.
What do we do now?
What do we do when our council can’t police themselves, but a majority won’t appoint someone who can police them?
Wait and see what happens, or demand answers and respect from all members of Council?