Edmonton·Updated

Nickel escapes sanction from Edmonton council colleagues

Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel narrowly avoided an official slap on the back of the hand from his colleagues Wednesday regarding his social media posts earlier this spring. 

Ward 11 councillor violated council's code of conduct, integrity commissioner found

Coun. Mike Nickel, known for his criticism of council's decisions on projects and spending, has been ramping up social media posts to call out colleagues. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel narrowly avoided an official slap on the hand from his colleagues Wednesday regarding his social media posts earlier this spring. 

The city's integrity commissioner, Jamie Pytel, had recommended the mayor, on behalf of council, send Nickel a letter of reprimand for violating council's code of conduct. 

Council voted 8-4 in favour of the reprimand but under a council bylaw on special resolutions, nine votes were needed to approve the sanction. 

Councillors Tony Caterina, Jon Dziadyk, Tim Cartmell and Mo Banga voted against the reprimand. 

Pytel presented her findings to council, in person, during a special council meeting Wednesday.

She investigated complaints from 10 members of the public and found that Nickel was disrespectful and demeaning toward Coun. Andrew Knack and misleading in posts involving Mayor Don Iveson. 

"Use common sense before hitting send on social media posts," Pytel said. "It is not an anything-goes environment." 

Nickel, who represents Ward 11, made it clear that he was not going to apologize. Nickel didn't attend the meeting himself but had his lawyer, Jonathan Denis, comment on his behalf. 

Denis called the code of conduct investigation and findings an infringement of freedom of expression as a fundamental right. 

"There is no integrity in this process," Denis told council. "If any of you believe my client is responsible for defamation, take him to court and let a judge decide." 

He said Nickel won't be silenced.

"And any sanction against Coun. Nickel will set a dangerous precedent that city councillors cannot represent their constituents as they see best and will have a chilling effect on freedom of expression and our democracy." 
Pytel said Nickel was misleading in making it seem that council decided to close lanes of traffic when city managers made the call in April to give people more room to exercise. (Mike Nickel/Facebook)

Most councillors and Mayor Don Iveson took issue with the reaction to Pytel's findings. 

"An apology could have fixed this," Iveson said. "I believe a reprimand is appropriate given an apology is not on offer."

Though no real consequence, a letter of reprimand states publicly and for the record what is expected, Iveson said. 

"Council expects better, the code demands better and the public should expect a certain standard of conduct from their elected officials."

But Caterina said he didn't believe the posts constituted a breach in the code, which council adopted in June 2018, and that council has other forums to address offensive behaviour.

"We're all adults, and if council or councillors or particular councillors felt offended by this, certainly that might be a different matter." 

Caterina noted there were several things written on social media and in journalism about him over 13 years that he could have taken offence to. 

"We know what we're doing when we volunteer for this type of work and certainly being thin skinned about it isn't going to go over well or [end in] longevity in this particular position."
Pytel found some of Nickel's posts had misleading information and violated council's code of conduct. (Mike Nickel/Twitter)

Knack wanted to make it clear that he wasn't bothered by the disrespectful behaviour toward him. 

"This happens from time to time in this job and I expected that when I signed up for it," Knack said during the meeting. 

"What does bother me and why I supported the code of conduct, is if people are being disrespectful to my colleagues and any member of the public."

@natashariebe

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