Council Censures Mitchell

By Ryan McGreal
Published February 14, 2008

Council decided last night to censure Councillor Dave Michell over his attempt to sway at least one other councillor in a land severance request in which he has an interest.

Mitchell wanted to sever a 0.5 hectare (1.25 acre) piece of land from his farm to create a residential lot for his sister's house, which currently sits on the land.

After the Committee of Adjustment approved the request, city staff argued that it violates provincial rules under the Greenbelt Plan as well as the Provincial Policy Statement against converting prime agricultural land to residential zoning.

City staff appealed the decision to the planning committee, recommending that the city challenge Mitchell at an Ontario Municipal Board hearing.

Mitchell recused himself from that meeting, and the commitee voted unanimously to support the staff recommendation.

Then the Hamilton Spectator dropped a doozy. The meeting was in camera, but someone leaked a report that Councillor Robert Pasuta claimed Mitchell had "lobbied" him in regards to the severance request:

When the planning committee retreated behind closed doors to seek legal advice on the case, Pasuta raised his hand to say he was concerned he may have a conflict. He paced the floor as he said Mitchell had asked him to present a motion to go against staff advice to take the case to the OMB.

It is illegal under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act for a councillor to try to influence a vote when they have a financial stake in the decision.

Mitchell denied the accusation, claiming, "I've had no conversations at all about this application with my colleagues."

Several of his colleagues disputed this, claiming that he had discussed the issue with them, but stopping short of claiming he tried to influence their decisions. By contrast, Councillor Brad Clark argued that simply talking about the deal crossed the line, a view shared by lawyers specializing in conflict of interest legislation.

After Pasuta's claim went public, Mitchell withdrew his land severance application. However, planning and economic development manager Tim McCabe insisted that withdrawing the application does not dismiss the Committee of Adjustment's decision to allow the severance, and the city must still appeal it to avoid a precedent.

Last night, after a three hour in camera session, Council decided to censure Mitchell over his actions. As part of the censure, Mitchell will not be allowed to chair or vice-chair a committee or act as deputy mayor for the rest of his term on council.

Another Council option was to order a judicial inquiry into the allegations, but a city legal advisor claimed this could cost up to $1 million to pursue. Instead, Council decided to respond according to its own code of conduct.

A private citizen could still ask a judge to investigate the matter under the Act.

This is not the first censure against Mitchell. In October 2005 Council censured him for trying to use his office to avoid a speeding ticket on his motorcycle - and then accusing the police of corruption when the officer wouldn't let him off the hook.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted February 14, 2008 at 20:02:34

It's incredible that he's still on council after this latest fiasco.

This incident, and the one where he tried to influence a police officer by using his status as councilor, are reminiscent of the old-school, smoky back room, wheelin' and dealin' dirty politics of the not-so-good old days.

In a modern city where citizens expect transparent, honest and accountable government, he's a throwback, and a lying one to boot. No, I'm not afraid to use the word "lying". As you wrote, he said, "I've had no conversations at all about this application with my colleagues."

That was a lie, plain and simple.

Mitchell should apologize to council, and more importantly, he should apologize to the citizens of Hamilton. And then he should resign.

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By agast (anonymous) | Posted February 14, 2008 at 22:00:33

So his punishment for breaking the law is that he's not allowed to chair any more committees? Well that'll learn 'im! :P

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By f.l.k. (anonymous) | Posted February 15, 2008 at 08:08:18

This is exactly why we need an ethics commissioner! It's just too awkward for council to have to punish one of their own (Larry DiAnni etc...) since they've all got to work together afterwards.

Also, the city should have fired Mitchell's ass. That guy is a friggin dinosaur.

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By markwhittle (registered) - website | Posted February 22, 2008 at 11:48:50

After reading Councillor Mitchell and the “leaks” emanating from city hall, I’m left with a profound sense of sadness at council’s collective secrecy during meetings by using a communications device to send messages to each other instead of speaking their minds.

These devices are designed for secrecy in their ability to send information using PIN numbers that are not an extension of the e-mail servers owned by the public that each Councillor is elected to use.

Therefore, getting those PIN records, if they haven't already been destroyed, is virtually impossible given the PIN server is privately owned enterprise.

Seems to me the fairest way to stop the “leaks” to the media would be to ban communications devices from all official meetings attended by Councillors and staff.

That way conversation between councillors regarding the matters before council will be in the public’s domain which allows the spotlight of accountability to once again shine brightly upon council.

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