Ottawa

Community growing impatient over Chiarelli's absence

Some College ward residents are growing concerned over the absence of the city councillor, Rick Chiarelli, who's been away from his office since reports of inappropriate behaviour surfaced last week.

College ward councillor on leave following reports of inappropriate behaviour

Coun. Rick Chiarelli has been on 'medical stress leave' since mid-August and is expected to be absent for three or four more weeks, according to his staff. (CBC)

Some College ward residents are growing concerned over the absence of the city councillor, Rick Chiarelli, who's been away from his office since reports of inappropriate behaviour surfaced last week.

"I'd like to see somebody, like another councillor, step in to help represent us," said Rachel Tweedy, the president of the Leslie Park Community Association.

I think if this was to go on for much longer, I think it would be prudent to have another councillor who could step in.- Ron Benn, Centrepointe Community Association

"I can't imagine that communities can last more than a month or so without some sort of representation."

Last week, CBC reported that at least one woman had made a formal complaint to the integrity commissioner accusing Chiarelli of making inappropriate comments in a job interview, including asking her if she would be willing to not wear a bra to certain work events.

Through his lawyer, Chiarelli did not address the allegations directly, but referred to them as "spurious."

Chiarelli lying low

In the days before the story appeared, Chiarelli was keeping a low profile.

He missed the Sept. 11 council meeting — the first in more than two months — even though he was supposed to help present a Mayor's City Builder Award to a volunteer in his ward.

He also missed last week's meetings of the planning committee and built-heritage subcommittee, of which he is a member.

But Chiarelli's office staff is now telling reporters that the councillor has been on "medical stress leave" since mid-August, and that he is expected to be away for another three to four weeks.

That worries some people in his ward.

Coun. Rick Chiarelli's ward office is in Ben Franklin Place. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Ron Benn, president of the Centrepointe Community Association, said he's worried about who will represent the community if an issue arises, such as a rezoning or traffic situation.

"First of all, I have to stress that we hope Coun. Chiarelli's health is restored," Benn told CBC. "But I think if this was to go on for much longer, I think it would be prudent to have another councillor who could step in."

Coun. Rick Chiarelli has been lying low since CBC reported allegations of inappropriate behaviour during a recent job interview. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Formal absence request

Councillors are not technically city employees. If they are ill, they don't have to show anyone a doctor's note.

They can work when they like and, in theory, be away from city hall as much as they believe is politically prudent, with one exception: under the Ontario Municipal Act, councillors cannot miss more than three months' worth of council meetings without the express permission of council. Otherwise, they lose their seats.

Councillors have had to ask for formal leave before.

Former Innes councillor Jody Mitic applied for a leave of absence in June 2018 to deal with his health and addiction issues. At the time, council OK'd his request and appointed three east-end councillors to oversee issues in his ward until the election in the fall of that year.

And Cumberland Coun. Stephen Blais was on leave in 2013 after suffering a heart attack at the gym.

'Elected to represent us'

Tweedy said Chiarelli's office has "done a lot of great things for us" over the years, but a couple of issues have fallen through the cracks in the last few months.

For example, a developer had applied to the committee of adjustment to change its plan to build a seniors' residence to a mid-rise building.

Tweedy said the community association never heard about it from the councillor's office, and hence was not able to present its case at the meeting.

She's concerned that other local issues like student housing near Algonquin College and problematic AirBnB rentals will also go unaddressed if Chiarelli is gone for much longer.

"He was elected to help represent us and to navigate things that are going on in our community," she said.

Ottawa city councillors and the mayor said Thursday that allegations of inappropriate behaviour against fellow Coun. Rick Chiarelli were "surprising" and "difficult to read." 1:54

Benn agrees. 

He pointed to rezoning applications, which the community often hears about just weeks before a final decision is made, as an area where the community wants to know the councillor is on top of the file. 

"So if there is no one to cover that position on behalf of the councillors while he's away, then the question is, who's raising it? Is his staff going to call us and let us know?"

Councillors may volunteer to assist Chiarelli's staff on an informal basis. But unless Chiarelli applies for a formal leave, council can't direct any of its members to do so.