A citizen has lodged a complaint about an incident this week that saw Councillor Lloyd Ferguson jostle independent journalist Joey Coleman during a heated exchange at city hall.
Ward 4 Councillor Sam Merulla told CBC Hamilton he received a complaint on Friday and promptly passed it on to the office of city manager Chris Murray.
“A complaint came to me from a constituent and I forwarded it along to the city manager accordingly,” Merulla said on Saturday.
Citing confidentiality rules, Merulla said he could not name the complainant — Coleman has denied that he filed the claim— and did not disclose the exact nature of the grievance.
But Merulla did confirm that it involves the Wednesday night confrontation between Ferguson, the councillor for Ward 12, and Coleman.
Around 10:45 p.m., the journalist wrote in a blog post on his website, he was following the city’s corporate communications manager to a press conference about the city’s new lease deal with Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Ward 9 Councillor Brad Clark approached the manager to speak with him. Coleman said he stood three metres away, holding his camera when a “visibly agitated” Ferguson interrupted the conversation, demanding to speak to either the manager or Clark.
“Immediately, Ferguson looked at me and aggressively told me to get away from the area," Coleman wrote on his website. "Before I had a chance to move, Ferguson turned around, strongly clenched my upper right arm and shoved me with force.
“He did not let go of his grip, continuing to clench me and strengthening his grip as he very angrily stated with a threatening tone that I wasn’t welcome to stand where I had been, stating further that he didn’t want me eavesdropping upon his conversation, looking at my camera.”
Ferguson made an apology in council chambers on Thursday. Coleman publicly accepted the councillor’s mea culpa, but said the run-in highlights a “culture problem” at city hall.
On Saturday, Ferguson said city residents are welcome to file complaints if they please. “Any citizen can do that. That’s fine.”
However, he said he would not comment on the claim against him “because I don’t know anything about it.”
Code of conduct
'We don’t have a precedent to predict what will happen.' —Ward 3 Councillor Sam Merulla
What happens next isn’t clear, as the city manager’s office has yet to announce how it will proceed.
“We don’t have a precedent to predict what will happen,” Merulla said.
The city’s code of conduct calls on members of council to treat “one another, City employees and members of the public appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation.”
According to the province’s Municipal Act, 2001, the city’s integrity commissioner may issue a reprimand or a suspension of pay for up 90 days to a councillor who is found to have violated the code of conduct.
For his part, Coleman said he will cooperate with any formal probe into the scuffle — albeit with a hint of reluctance.
“I totally respect process at city hall,” he said on Saturday. “It’s that respect for process that I’m following by fully cooperating with the investigation into the matter.”
However, Coleman, who broadcasts city council and committee meetings on a weekly basis, said he considered the issue “resolved” after receiving Ferguson’s apology.
The complaint poses “an awkward situation for me as a journalist,” he added.
“Because I am involved, it’s difficult to cover objectively. So I’ve decided that I won’t cover it because I am involved.”