Mike Nickel violated council's code of conduct, city integrity commissioner finds

An investigation by the city's integrity commissioner has found social media posts from Coun. Mike Nickel violated council's code of conduct.

Veteran councillor found to be disrespectful and misleading in social media posts

Mike Nickel responds to media at city hall Friday after the city's integrity commissioner found he violated council's code of conduct. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

An investigation by the city's integrity commissioner has found social media posts from Coun. Mike Nickel violated council's code of conduct.

Ten members of the public filed complaints against Nickel related to four separate posts on Facebook and Twitter on April 19, 20 and 21 and May 20. 

In a report released Friday, integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel found the posts were disrespectful toward fellow city councillors and lacked decorum.

Pytel also found Nickel's posts were misleading when he claimed council made a decision to install bike lanes during a pandemic, when in reality the bike lanes were installed over the past several years.

One post shows an image of Coun. Andrew Knack throwing taxpayer money at bike lanes. Nickel says in the post, "C'mon, Andrew, now is your time to show some fiscal restraint." 

Nickel depicts his colleague, Coun. Andrew Knack, as a careless spender of taxpayer dollars. (Facebook)

Pytel recommended Mayor Don Iveson send a letter of reprimand to Nickel, and that council adopt a social media policy. 

Council is set to discuss the findings at a meeting Sept. 2. Council has the authority to remove a councillor found violating the code of conduct from sitting on city committees.

Nickel told CBC News on Friday the cartoons are a form of political expression.

He called the investigation and its findings absurd.

"It's unbelievable," he said.

"This is about freedom of speech," he added. "You don't get to come in and edit my social media posts."

The complainants are not named in the report. Knack was not one of them.

In an interview with CBC News on Friday, Coun. Aaron Paquette disagreed with Nickel's position.

"My colleague is free to speak his mind in any way, at any time that he wishes," Paquette said. "There's been no move to quell any sort of free speech."

He said he doesn't expect council will be tough on Nickel when they discuss the findings in September. 

In the report, Pytel said that political commentary and expressing opinions does not violate the code. 

"It is not my role to interfere with political debate and commentary," she wrote. "Interfering with this would be a very serious threat to the democratic process." 

Council adopted the code of conduct in June 2018, which was a new requirement by the provincial government. The city hired an integrity commissioner, Pytel, and an ethics advisor, Brent Rathgeber. 

Pytel has investigated complaints against other councillors, including one against Coun. Jon Dziadyk for using part of his ward budget to pay for an MBA degree, money which he later repaid. She also looked into nepotism complaints levelled against Coun. Tony Caterina for employing his son as an executive assistant. 

In both cases, Pytel found neither violated the code of conduct at the time but rather acted in poor judgment. 

The code allows councillors to have a position on an issue. 

"This is balanced with Code requirements, such as, to accurately represent Council's decisions, be respectful and act with decorum," Pytel wrote.

One post gave the impression that Mayor Don Iveson was responsible for approving dozens of "emergency bike lanes," when it was city administration who decided to create shared mixed-use paths to give the public more space during the pandemic, Pytel wrote.

This post was misleading, she noted. 

The post gives the impression that Mayor Don Iveson approved expanding mixed-use paths when it was a decision by city administration. (Mike Nickel/Twitter)

Nickel said he wouldn't be running again as a ward candidate but didn't deny he's considering running for mayor. 

Knack said he will read the reports before responding and plans to comment on Monday.