Mayor Bob Bratina says he meant no disrespect to the city's top bureaucrat at a heated council meeting Wednesday.
A day after a raucous meeting that included shouting and allegations against the mayor of bullying and nasty behaviour, councillors say they regretted the tone. But they also said sometimes politics involves disagreements that can get heated.
During a discussion about Light Rail Transit (LRT), Coun. Sam Merulla accused the mayor of "bullying" and yelling at city manager Chris Murray. He's demanding an investigation into the exchange between the two and says he will ask for it at an upcoming meeting.
In an email to CBC Hamilton, Bratina said Thursday that he regretted the "lapses of decorum in a meeting that on balance was reasonably civil."
And he addressed the bullying accusation, saying: "I have great respect for the city manager and had no intention of showing disrespect to Mr. Murray."
The tension erupted after Coun. Brian McHattie introduced a motion for council to "reaffirm" that LRT is its transit priority. It also would have directed the mayor to represent that position when dealing with upper levels of government.
The motion stemmed from the mayor being quoted in local media as saying Hamilton would have to choose between LRT and all-day GO service. The mayor insists the story was inaccurate.
Bratina and some councillors argued Wednesday that declaring LRT the No. 1 priority went against the city's Rapid Ready plan, which council passed in February. That led to debate on the appropriateness of the motion and whether it required a council vote to reopen the transit issue.
Murray said that the plan and the motion did not conflict. Shortly afterward, the mayor left his seat and spoke to Murray.
"All I know is that the tone was one of aggression. In looking at (Murray's) face, he looked legitimately startled, almost fearful," Merulla said Wednesday.
Merulla asked for a report back detailing the exchange between Murray and the mayor. When Bratina asked Murray in front of council if he'd been bullied, Coun. Jason Farr interjected.
"You know what? I heard it. I heard what you said," he said. "I got it verbatim. You're being awful nasty, awful nasty."
Will say more later
Farr wouldn't comment on the matter Thursday, except to say that it is a personnel matter that will be discussed in camera.
"I will not comment until the matter is resolved in this official capacity. At such time I will share both what I had heard and the context."
Farr got up and left the meeting right after the exchange, but said Thursday he was not leaving because of it. He had family commitments.
The debate "wasn't our finest hour," Coun. Tom Jackson said Thursday. "But when you've got 16 strong personalities brought together for a four-year term, you do your darndest to work together."
Jackson didn't hear what happened between Murray and the mayor, he said, nor was he focused on it.
"The anomaly like last night will happen once in a while," he said. "I'm going to do my best to be part of the group and get it back on track."
Coun. Chad Collins agrees that arguments are common in politics.
"The community didn't elect a Stepford council. We don't all share the same opinion," Collins said. "That's part of it. That's politics."
Collins didn't hear what the mayor said to Murray, but he noticed that there was an exchange.
"I watch the mayor get up and walk over to Mr. Murray, and I could see staff kind of lean back when the mayor was speaking," he said. "I could see it was a tense moment.
"Really, the only people who can account for their actions are the people who undertook them. Now it's up to the mayor whether he'll explain his actions."
Coun. Brenda Johnson said some councillors went into the meeting wanting to embarrass the mayor, and "I think they accomplished that," she said.
"I think the intent was to embarrass the mayor, it was achieved and whether this motion will follow through, I don't know," she said. "I hope so. I hope we didn't go through all that for nothing."
Issue will come back again
McHattie wants it to come back. His LRT motion is in the hands of the clerk's office, where staff will determine if it conflicts with the Rapid Ready plan and requires a council vote to reopen the issue.
The city has spent millions studying the possibility of light rail transit in Hamilton, McHattie said. So he's baffled that not all councillors think it's the priority.
"I was baffled and I remain baffled."
As for the mayor, "He is who he is and he's going to continue to behave in exactly the same fashion as he has over the last number of years."
"It's unfortunate these things happen but I think we just need to carry on."
Mayor Bob Bratina's statement:
"As I said last night to Council I regretted the lapses of decorum in a meeting that on balance was reasonably civil.
Since the beginning of this term we've met as council on over 100 occasions and came to unanimous agreement on several very contentious issues. My expectation is this will continue to be the pattern.
I have great respect for the City Manager and had no intention of showing disrespect to Mr. Murray."
Coun. Jason Farr's statement:
"Any comment would be inappropriate due to the fact there is now on record a Notice of Motion requesting an In-camera personal matter.
I will not comment until the matter is resolved in this official capacity. At such time I will share both what I had heard and the context."