'Bury the hatchet': No reprimand for Regina city councillor who violated confidentiality bylaw
Regina city councillors decided on Wednesday to not impose sanctions or corrective measures on Ward 3 Coun. Andrew Stevens for a violation of the city’s confidentiality bylaw.
The vote came following a report from the integrity commissioner, filed by Ward 7 Coun. Terina Nelson towards Stevens when he hit ‘reply all’ to an email meant to be confidential in June 2022.
“Councillor Stevens did violate the ethics bylaw,” alternate integrity commissioner Randy Langgard confirmed. “The letter stated the report was confidential and only they, meaning the two councillors, would be receiving that report.”
Stevens sent the email to the acting city clerk, city manager, city solicitor and other members of council.
“This is a two-part error on my part,” Stevens told council. “I accept responsibility.”
“When I thought who was in the realm of what is confidential, I assumed it was them,” he said.
Stevens said he immediately regretted the action and apologized to Nelson in person.
He believed the issue was resolved prior to Nelson filling the report in January 2023, months after the incident occurred.
“I wasn’t going to [file the report],” Nelson said. “I didn’t think a breach of confidentiality that [Stevens] wrote against me was a big deal.”
Nelson told council Wednesday she had multiple other councilors approach her with allegations Stevens breached confidentiality.
“I knew [it] happened, I could prove it,” she said.
“I as a responsible official didn’t do my job by reporting this,” Nelson said.
Langgard recommended Stevens issue a written apology because Nelson would not participate in a mediation process.
“She did not feel it was the right course of action in this particular case,” Langgard explained.
Instead, council voted 7-1 in favour of no punishment for Stevens. Only Mayor Sandra Masters voted against the motion.
This was the second time a councillor was found to break the code of ethics and not face punishment. Coun. Nelson received a similar vote when she previously violated the bylaw.
Ward 6 Coun. Dan LeBlanc made the motion to not levy any punishment.
“This was a technical breach. He was at the least careless,” LeBlanc said. “I suspect councillor Stevens is now very careful with the ‘reply-all’ function on his email.”
“We need to put this behind us,” Ward 5 Coun. John Findura said. “We need to get back to respecting each other for what we do, how we think.”
“It’s done. I want to move on. I don’t want to deal with this anymore,” he said. “We have many other issues to deal with that are more important.”
“I’ve heard an apology and an acknowledgement of the mistakes made,” Ward 8 Coun. Shanon Zachidniak said. “I think it’s fair to treat both [integrity commissioners’ reports] equally.”
Stevens was appreciative of his colleagues’ support for his point of view.
“It was always my intention to move on,” he told reporters after the decision. “[Nelson and I] have to work together. We don’t have to like each other,” he said.
Nelson did not take questions from reporters after Wednesday’s council meeting.
Stevens said he, Nelson and the other members of council care deeply about Regina.
“I will work with anybody,” he said. “I’m willing to bury the hatched so long it’s not in my back.”
Langgard believes changes to the current code of ethics may be needed.
“It may be time for a second generation,” Langgard said. “Review it and take a look at some of the provisions for sanctions and whether they are adequate or not.”
“There’s a common understanding amongst council the first generation of the code of conduct could use some work,” said Masters. “We are feeling our way through it a bit.”
The city’s third integrity commissioner report is set to be presented at the next council meeting.
Langgard said his cost estimate to the city was $7,500.
DEBT LIMIT INCREASE
City council asked its administration to pursue permission from the Saskatchewan Municipal Board (SMB) to increase its debt limit to $780 million.
The Saskatchewan Cities Act states, “No city shall borrow moneys if the borrowing will cause the city to exceed its debt limit unless the borrowing is approved by the SMB.”
At its first meeting, the audit and finance committee said it discussed at length making the request to the SMB.
“There hasn’t been generational investments on many of our assets for 50 to 70 years,” said committee chair and Ward 9 Coun. Jason Mancinelli. “[Inflationary pressures] will not go away and the times we are in will call for this credit to be used to get these jobs looked after.”
According to administration, the city has committed to various growth-related projects including increasing wastewater capacity, a multi-purpose events centre and others.
Because of this, an infrastructure gap has been created.
“The reason administration is pursuing this is to provide the city the opportunity to advance these critical projects,” said executive director of financial sustainability Barry Lacey.
Already in 2024, the city has committed up to $437 million in debt. The previous limit was $450 million.
Administration told council Wednesday, the increase would allow safeguards in the possibility the city can access grants from other levels of government but may need to front some costs.
“Having that room available provides council ability and flexibility,” Lacey said. “The turnaround time on grant funding is pretty short and this gives the city flexibility to pursue those opportunities when they present themselves.”
Coun. Stevens wanted to see administration return to council with a list of priorities that could require debt financing to complete.
“We can draw from what [council] has identified as priorities and tether them to this debt ceiling request,” he said.
Lacey advised Stevens it’s possible the priorities could change.
“They’re not written in stone,” he said. “Council needs to be flexible.”
Ward 1 Coun. Cheryl Stadnichuk attempted to reduce the amount the debt ceiling rose from $780 million to $660 million.
“I am a bit wary about jumping from 40-42 per cent to 100 per cent,” she explained. “I’m worried we could spend more than what would be wise.”
The motion was rejected by council.
According to administration, Regina’s city debt ratio is below average in Canada.
(Photo source: City of Regina council meeting agenda)
“It may become above average if council approves additional debt,” Lacey said. “As a city, we’re in a strong financial position.”
The approval by council will not result in any new debt being incurred by the city. The SMB must approve the application.
There were no public delegates scheduled to speak on the request.
Coun. Zachidniak brought concerns of the time frame available for the public to see the report and register to be a delegate.
“Folks were not aware this was coming to council,” she said. “This concerns me as it does have implications for our residents.”
Public notice of this type of request is required by law.
The audit and finance committee met on June 1 and the report was in the council agenda on June 2. Administration said public notice was issued in city newspapers and on its website.
Residents had until June 5 at noon to register to be a delegate. Zachidniak attempted to table the motion for the next meeting to give the public more time to register.
Council rejected the motion.
The city currently pays off about $10 million in debt per year.
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