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Municipal commission suspends Ormstown mayor over breaches of ethical code

The mayor of Ormstown, Christine McAleer, has been suspended for a period of 40 days without pay following sanctions imposed by the Direction des enquêtes et des poursuites en intégrité municipale (DEPIM), the jurisdictional division of the Commission municipale du Québec. The suspension started on December 23, the date of McAleer’s hearing, where she admitted to having breached the Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct of Elected Municipal Officials on three occasions between January and June 2022.

The ruling, which was issued orally, details the instances in which the mayor was accused of breaching the ethical code which binds all elected municipal officials. All three stem from directions or actions on the part of the mayor that were made or carried out without a municipal council resolution. The ruling notes that McAleer does not have a background in ethics, and that her election in November 2021 represents her first experience serving as mayor and as a member of a municipal council.

On or around January 7, the mayor was accused of requiring the director general to issue directives to municipal employees, some of which were not legal, concerning their presence at the town hall in the context of public health measures and the COVID-19 pandemic. An email sent to the director general, which was copied to members of the municipal council, instructs the director general to restrict non-vaccinated employees from entering the town hall while also requesting employees to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 test before reporting to work.

In late February or early March, the mayor met with citizens to discuss a parking issue in front of their home in the presence of municipal employees. As a result of this conversation, no-parking signs were installed by municipal employees. McAleer explained to the tribunal that the situation involved a citizen with health problems who required regular hospital visits by ambulance. She testified her decision to restrict parking in front of this residence was to ensure the ambulance could park in front of the citizen’s home.

According to the DEPIM’s ruling, the issue was brought up again during the April 4 municipal council meeting, where citizens who used to park in the now-prohibited areas complained about the situation, suggesting they felt “directly targeted by the parking ban.” A resolution was adopted later that evening to prohibit parking in a more generalized area on the west side of De la Vallée Street and on the east side of Du Marais Street in the Vallée-des-Outardes sector. The resolution notes that no-parking signs were deemed essential and had already been purchased.

Finally, on or around June 28, McAleer decided to install informative signs at the town hall and requested that a municipal employee install the panels outside the municipal building.

Lawyers for the DEPIM concluded the mayor’s actions contributed to a climate of “confusion and uneasiness” among municipal employees, and in some cases the public, regarding the decision-making powers attributed to the director general and to the mayor. The ruling goes on to note the ethical breaches “flout the decision-making power of the municipal council,” while giving the impression that a mayor can make decisions on behalf of the council.

The ruling states McAleer acted in full transparency with DEPIM investigators. She acknowledged that proper procedure had not been followed in these instances, and said she wants to avoid doing this again. Her admission avoided the need to call witnesses and hold a hearing into the matter. She received a ten-day suspension without pay for the first and third breaches of conduct, while the second resulted in a 20-day suspension without pay.

In her absence, the role of mayor pro tempore is being filled by councillor Eric Bourdeau, who presided over a special meeting on January 9 as well as the regular monthly council meeting on January 16. McAleer will be back in office in time for the next council meeting scheduled to take place on February 6.

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