Edmonton

Coun. Mike Nickel should face censure and reprimand, integrity commissioner finds

Ward 11 councillor and mayoral candidate Mike Nickel should be reprimanded and censured for a series of code of conduct violations, Edmonton integrity commissioner Jamie Pytel has found.

Edmonton mayoral candidate violated council's code of conduct, Jamie Pytel says

Edmonton city councillor Mike Nickel has again been found in violation of the council code of conduct. (Sam Martin/CBC)

City councillor and mayoral candidate Mike Nickel should be reprimanded and censured for a series of code of conduct violations, says Edmonton's integrity commissioner.

In a series of investigative reports released Thursday, Jamie Pytel said Nickel publicly retaliated against fellow councillor Andrew Knack and others he held responsible for previous conduct complaints levied against him.

Nickel also violated city council's code of conduct when he used emails accessed through his official duties to further his mayoral campaign, Pytel said.

The Ward 11 councillor had maintained during Pytel's investigations into a series of complaints against him that the allegations are either unfounded or politically motivated.

Pytel's reports were released ahead of a sanctioning hearing city council will hold June 24.

In a statement to CBC on Friday, Nickel said the investigation is a waste of tax dollars and that he should have the ability to ask "tough questions" of his political opponents.

"This is petty and cowardly," he wrote.

Pytel has repeatedly reprimanded Nickel in the past. In her latest reports, she described his previous infractions as an "aggravating factor" in deciding his proposed punishment.

Nickel was uncooperative with the investigation, dismissive of her jurisdiction to investigate and demonstrated an "intentional disregard" for the council code, Pytel said.

The integrity commissioner's reports detail six recent complaints against Nickel, including one from Mayor Don Iveson.

The first set of violations identified by Pytel stemmed from social media posts Nickel made on April 12 and 13 of this year.

Nickel tried to 'ridicule and intimidate'

In the posts, Nickel accused Knack of having filed a complaint against him in mid-2020.

Last year, Pytel investigated 10 complaints about Nickel's social media posts and found him in violation. Council voted 8-4 in favour of a reprimand but under a council bylaw on special resolutions, nine votes were needed to approve the sanction. 

In the reports released Thursday, Pytel wrote that Nickel wrongly blamed Knack for the 2020 investigation and the cost to Edmonton taxpayers.

"Councillor Nickel falsely attributed the estimated cost of the 2020 code complaints to Councillor Knack and his staff member, and called it a '$50,000 + Stunt,'" Pytel wrote. 

"Even if Councillor Knack did this, which has been repeatedly denied including in a signed witness statement in this investigation, it would be irrelevant."

Pytel said the rule prohibiting retaliation against those who make complaints is critical. If not enforced, the code of conduct is meaningless, she said.

"[Nickel] intentionally attempted to ridicule and intimidate people who have made code complaints, or intimidate people from making complaints in the future," she wrote. 

"The need for deterrence for this type of conduct, particularly when it is intentional." 

In an official letter of response, Nickel said he felt Iveson wanted to take "political swipes" at him.

"You have zero right to investigate," Nickel told Pytel in the letter. "Please forward your concerns to the Municipal Affairs Office or Elections Alberta."

Misuse of email lists

The second set of complaints detailed Thursday alleges that Nickel used city email distribution lists to promote his mayoral campaign.

In four separate complaints, city residents alleged they received unsolicited emails from Nickel's campaign asking for their support in his bid for election this October.

The code of conduct bars councillors from using email distribution lists that are used for official duties for election campaigns.

Nickel told Pytel the complainants had signed on for political correspondence, either through his website or contact with his previous election campaigns — a claim the residents denied.

"As with the Code of Conduct complaints brought against me in 2020, I am concerned complainants may have been coached or solicited through political networks to create illegitimate action through your office," Nickel wrote.

"I have warned you previously regarding my concerns of the politicization of your office." 

In a June 8 letter to Pytel, Nickel's lawyer Jonathan Denis characterized the complaints around the councillor's social media activity as a politically-motivated attempt to use the code as a means to "police free speech."

The complaints about misuse of email lists are "patently false," Denis said.

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