Integrity commisioner: Coun. Ferguson violated code of conduct

Hamilton’s integrity commissioner has found that an Ancaster councillor violated the city’s code of conduct when he grabbed a local journalist after a long day of contentious meetings.

Coun. Ferguson is in violation after incident with local journalist, report says

Hamilton's integrity commissioner says Coun. Lloyd Ferguson violated the city's code of conduct when he grabbed a local journalist. (John Rieti/CBC)

Hamilton’s integrity commissioner has found that an Ancaster councillor violated the city’s code of conduct when he grabbed a journalist after a long day of contentious meetings.

In a report to council, Earl Basse says that Coun. Lloyd Ferguson shouldn’t have made physical contact when he grabbed Joey Coleman, an independent journalist who live streams city hall meetings, and moved him about three feet on Feb. 26, 2014. Ferguson said he thought Coleman was trying to eavesdrop on a conversation with another councillor.

Basse said it doesn’t matter that Ferguson had a long day of contentious meetings, including a debate over a 20-year lease agreement with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats for the new Tim Horton’s Field stadium.

“Ferguson should not have made physical contact with Mr. Coleman and as a result, Coun. Ferguson is in violation of Section 45(a) and (b) of the Code of Conduct,” Basse writes in the report, which does not recommend any sanctions.

That's no surprise to Ferguson, who told CBC Hamilton on Tuesday that he knew he violated the code of conduct. That's why he apologized privately and publicly the following day.

"I knew I made a mistake," he said. "Nobody’s perfect. I knew it."

"I admitted it the next morning and apologized for it."

The incident happened nearly a year ago after a day of meetings that began at 8:30 a.m. and ended late at night. 

It was a pretty clear violation of the code of conduct.- Matt Jelly

Ferguson had been in a heated in-camera debate about a lease agreement for the Hamilton Ticats. Security tape footage shows that Ferguson was having a private discussion with a staff member over the agreement when Coleman approached them, Basse's report says.

Coleman told media at the time that he was standing about three metres from Coun. Brad Clark and a staff manager with his tripod and camera when Ferguson walked in front of him and told either the staff member or Clark "I need to talk to you about something."

Ferguson believed Coleman was eavesdropping, the report says, and that he was trying to record a private conversation. Coleman says his equipment was turned off.

Two complaints filed

"Coun. Ferguson explained that he asked Mr. Coleman to move and when Mr. Coleman did not move away, Coun. Ferguson grabbed Mr. Coleman by the arm and physically propelled him approximately three feet away, at which time Mr. Coleman vociferously expressed his displeasure to Coun. Ferguson physically moving him," the report says.

Ferguson apologized to Coleman in his office the next day, the report says, and again in open session at council. Coleman accepted the apology. 

There’s nothing I didn’t know in there.- Coun. Lloyd Ferguson

Two complaints were filed against Ferguson — one on May 27 and one on May 29.

It took Basse so long to complete the inquiry, his report says, because of "personal medical issues."

Matt Jelly, a community activist, was one of the complainants. He didn't even know there was another, he said. He wishes the report had happened faster.

One year later

This process, he said, seems to show that taking any investigations into councillors violating the code of conduct will take a year.

Having said that, "I agree with the findings of the report," he said. "It was a pretty clear violation of the code of conduct."

Ferguson agrees that it was too.

It's been a long, drawn-out haul.- Coun. Maria Pearson

"There’s nothing I didn’t know in there," he said.

Basse also found that Coun. Maria Pearson of Ward 10 shouldn't have used an informal survey to get opinions from community members on a proposal at 2 Oceanic Dr., but that she was acting in good faith when she did so.

Pearson called more than 40 residents to inform them that an application to construct 10 maisonettes had been changed to six townhouses, and to get their opinions. Basse interviewed more than 40 residents during the investigation.

Pearson said she's glad it's over. 

"It's been a long, drawn-out haul," she said. 

"You learn from that and you move on. It's a learning process."

City council will discuss the reports at its meeting Wednesday. However, it would typically be up to Basse, who did the investigations, to recommend any sanctions, said city spokesperson Mike Kirkopoulos.

Ferguson said he's pleased that none were recommended for him.