Hamilton Mountain councillor docked pay after report says he bullied city staff
'This is definitely not one of our finest hours,' says another councillor
Hamilton city council is docking Terry Whitehead a month of pay and limiting which staff the Mountain councillor can communicate with when it comes to city business.
The move comes after a damning integrity commissioner report that says the Ward 14 rep bullied and spread rumours about a chief roads official whose actions he disagreed with when it came to traffic on Aberdeen Avenue.
Council voted unanimously Wednesday to take the advice of Principles Integrity, which acts as the city's integrity commissioner.
The report said Whitehead was not only antagonistic at a meeting, but strong arms staff when they don't give the advice he wants. Council supported the report's recommendations, and dubbed this a moment of reckoning.
Brad Clark, councillor for Ward 9 (upper Stoney Creek), said the commissioner's report referenced a half dozen incidents with different managers.
"By doing nothing, we as a council have enabled the behaviour over the years, particularly this term," said Judi Partridge, Ward 15 (Waterdown/Flamborough) councillor. And "we have to put a stop to it."
"This is definitely not one of our finest hours," said Maria Pearson, Ward 10 (lower Stoney Creek) councillor.
In the past, Whitehead has said his sometimes aggressive questions are due diligence for his constituents.
Council also voted to remove Whitehead of any chair or vice-chair positions he holds, which Tom Jackson (Ward 6, east Mountain) voted against.
Residents vote for Whitehead, he said, and what "some would see as very aggressive, hard charging," others might see as "fighting like heck for their people."
A letter from Whitehead's lawyer, Jack Restivo, says the investigation was out of bounds because the complaint was filed by the city's human resources department, which city rules don't recognize as a valid complainant. It also says Whitehead apologized to the roads director.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that the apology was not genuine, nor that it was accepted as anything other than genuine," Restivo said in the letter.
He also said limiting who Whitehead can communicate with is "unacceptable in our democratic society. It is unenforceable, repugnant and cannot stand."
"This recommendation is, to say the least, absolutely shocking," the letter said. "It represents a direct attack on the democratic right of free speech accorded to every person in a democratic society."
John-Paul Danko, Ward 8 (west Mountain) councillor, said the whole issue is uncomfortable. "I'm uncomfortable right now."
But there is a "real human impact this behaviour has on the people that we as a council rely on every day," he said.
"No one in any workplace should be subject to this kind of behaviour."
The incident that triggered the report happened at a Sept. 11, 2020, meeting, the report says, when Whitehead delivered a series of antagonistic questions at a chief road official. If something similar had been in court, the report says, it would be seen as "witness badgering."
At that meeting, Whitehead opposed the reconfiguration of traffic on Aberdeen, referred to as a "road diet." Danko was chairing, and ultimately ejected Whitehead from the meeting.
Whitehead recently returned to work after a seven-month medical leave.
How they voted
Who voted in favour of withholding a month of pay and limiting Whitehead's communication with staff
Mayor Fred Eisenberger, Maureen Wilson (Ward 1), Jason Farr (2), Nrinder Nann (3), Tom Jackson (6), Esther Pauls (7), John-Paul Danko (8), Brad Clark (9), Maria Pearson (10), Brenda Johnson (11), Lloyd Ferguson (12), Arlene VanderBeek (13).
Sam Merulla (4), Whitehead (who recused himself), Judi Partridge (15).
Ward 5 — Seat is vacant.