'Monstrous' bullying led Ontario mayor to create mysterious wall of photos in office bathroom
Justin Altmann's montage now under investigation by Whitchurch-Stouffville integrity commissioner
The mayor of a small town north of Toronto has broken his silence to explain the mysterious wall of photos featuring past and present council members, political rivals and town employees that was discovered in his office washroom.
Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann told CBC News he created the police investigation-style collage of head shots to help get to the bottom of what he describes as a nasty smear campaign against him. It was also a visual demonstration of the political drama that has unfolded at town council since the election in 2014, he explained.
The harassment, the bullying that I have endured has been very, very monstrous.- Whitchurch-Stouffville Mayor Justin Altmann
"For the last two and a half, three years, the harassment, the bullying that I have endured has been very, very monstrous," said Altmann.
Altmann, who last year made national headlines for inviting the whole town to his wedding, said the wall depicted "the first six months of hell that I had gone through." The wall was a work in progress.
According to Altmann, over the last three years, about 20 packages with "nasty letters of hatred" and unflattering information about him have been circulated to residents, business owners and politicians around the area. It started when he was running for mayor and "ramped up" since then, he said.
In that same period, details of private council meetings were also leaked to at least one Toronto Star reporter, Altmann said.
Wall under investigation
Altmann also described being followed by vehicles, his family and supporters being followed and getting harassing calls, letters and emails. His tires were also deflated, Altmann said.
The photos in his collage had lines and arrows drawn between them to help connect and show "exactly what has been happening" at the town council, he said.
What's been happening is a lot of drama that has included turmoil in the town's senior staff ranks, and accusations of wrongdoing, sabotage and mismanagement being flung around this normally quiet and quaint town about 50 kilometres northeast of downtown Toronto.
Word about the photo wall got around after the mayor explained it to a staff member a few months ago. Someone launched a formal complaint about it in March to the newly hired integrity commissioner, Suzanne Craig, and she initiated an investigation.
When the 90-day deadline for the investigation came, June 14, she said she told council she needed more time and why, but wouldn't disclose the reasons to CBC News.
Mayor is a "visual learner"
Altmann says his critics are trying to portray the photo wall as something "scary." There were rumours that some photos had black lines drawn through the faces. Altmann said that is not true.
"There was nothing evil, there was nothing bad, there was nothing corrupt, there was nothing of hatred," said Altmann. "It was showing the purity of my investigation with the links of the emails, the information and the data which I had collected."
The mayor describes himself as "a visual learner."
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The wall's existence became public earlier this week when the Toronto Star reported on it. Altmann did not provide a comment for the article to explain what it was.
In the absence of an explanation, there was much mystery and speculation about its purpose.
"I don't understand why I'm on that wall," Wayne Emmerson, the former mayor, told CBC News. He led the town for 17 years and is now the chair of the Regional Municipality of York. "I have done nothing against Justin Altmann other than beat him in [the election in] 2010."
Emmerson did not run in 2014, which is when Altmann, just 32 at the time, was elected mayor of his hometown, winning by about 350 votes.
He beat two sitting councillors, Phil Bannon and Richard Bartley, by splitting the vote between them. Their faces were also on the wall.
'Disturbed' to be on the wall
"To say the least, I was shocked and disturbed ... I don't know how I made the wall," Bannon said when reached by phone. Upon hearing the mayor's explanation for it, Bannon wasn't satisfied.
"This is questionable behaviour," said Bannon, who was a detective in Toronto before jumping into local politics in 2003.
The controversy around the wall has distracted the council from focusing on issues like the staff turmoil at town hall, he said.
Sue Sherban ran against Altmann in the 2010 election and said she wishes she had in 2014.
"There are many issues I have in regards to what the leadership has been and what has been going [on] at the town hall for over a year a half now — and this was just, I guess, the icing on the cake," she said in reference to the washroom photo wall mystery.
Since Altmann and the new council was elected, the top job of chief administrative officer has been the subject of turmoil, with multiple people hired, fired, stepping in and stepping down. The clerk, who had worked for the town for 29 years, retired early, and multiple human resources managers have come and gone.
Altmann said he is unfairly blamed for the "staff exodus" and that the problems pre-date his arrival. He was the one trying to bring them to light and fix them, but he was limited by privacy legislation and other regulations, he said.
The mayor said he's pleased the bathroom wall photo collage was exposed.
"Now, I can tell my story, because this is not human ... it's just evil, pure evil."
He said he hopes Craig's investigation bears fruit.
"I want justice to take place," he said.