Petrolia councillor tailed by police unlikely to face Integrity Commissioner probe

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Petrolia Councillor Marty Souch told The Independent he was the subject of an OPP investigation sparked by a town employee's concerns.

Marty Souch wanted mayor to find out why staff called OPP

Heather Wright
The Independent

One August day this summer, Petrolia Councillor Marty Souch walked into the offices of The Independent to talk. He was angry.

Souch had recently talked to a Lambton OPP detective who had been tasked with shadowing him for 20 days.

A staff member had reported seeing a white van watching summer students work at Bridgeview Park and taking pictures. A senior manager, who had been told of the concern but wasn’t the summer student’s supervisor, took the matter to police suggesting Souch was involved.

Souch told The Independent at the time, the detective said it was clear he was doing nothing wrong and that he “was pretty boring” to follow around asking “what do you do all day?”

The councillor spent an hour answering questions at The Independent that day but ultimately didn’t want to talk publicly about the investigation – at least not yet.

Souch was taking the matter to Mayor Brad Loosley and expected a fiery in camera meeting to talk about the OPP investigation. Souch wanted to know “what the hell was going on?”

That private council meeting occurred Sept. 12. By November, John Fleming was investigating what was called a “staff/councillor conflict.” He released his report Nov. 25.

Souch was never named as the councillor involved.

Fleming noted the OPP found no reason to file criminal harassment charges against the councillor. The investigator felt the councillor was making sure taxpayers were getting value for their dollars.

“Perhaps appropriately, perhaps not, some take more extreme measures in their interest in cost constraint and spend more time and attention to that “watching than most would consider normal,” Fleming wrote.

The investigator hired by the town to look into the matter turned his report over to Petrolia’s Integrity Commissioner for review.

But as of now, it seems unlikely Souch will face an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner.

“There’s been no charges and there’s no investigation that I’m aware of. Now, he (the commissioner) is coming to council to do his presentation on Monday, but I’m not aware of any investigation unless I’m directed to do so,” Mayor Brad Loosley told The Independent Dec. 7.

The last time the Integrity Commissioner was called in to deal with a politician who had breached the Petrolia’s Code of Conduct, council voted to launch the investigation. Loosley says in this instance, that hasn’t happened.

And the mayor defended the town’s decision to withhold the name of the councillor who was the subject of the police investigation. Loosley says the town was advised by a lawyer not to name him, even though any councillor investigated for breaches of the Code of Conduct is named – whether guilty or not – in the name of public accountability.

“That’s certainly a valid point,” the mayor agreed when asked why taxpayers wouldn’t be able to hold the councillor accountable. “We’re going also by our information given to us. And my understanding is we are not to release that name. So, if it goes to the Integrity Commissioner, then yes, everything will be released.”

Loosley added the report showed “There was no proof of a councillor, at this time, doing that. So there were no charges laid… it was only an allegation.”

The summary of the report released publicly did not go into depth about the allegation – including how many times staff complained about a town councillor observing them – but it does mention there had been discussions about the councillor’s tactics in the past. The report notes that had been dealt with by council.

“There may have been repetition in the past, but in this report, there was no fault in this situation at all.”

Sources tell The Independent the police investigation not only cleared Souch of being involved, the person taking photos in the white van, which ultimately sparked a town employee to consult police, was a woman.

What concerned Fleming was the actions of the senior manager who went to the OPP without letting the CAO, Rick Charlebois, deal with the issue. “The OPP became involved ahead of any reference to or knowledge of the CAO,” says Fleming.

Loosley believes the Fleming investigation focuses rightly on the actions of town staff.

“The process kind of went over the CAOs head and stated how they (directors) went directly to the police, that that’s a major issue from where I stand,” he tells The Independent. “There’s processes for everything, as you know, in most municipalities that have to be followed. So, the report said these were overlooked.”

Loosley, nor Charlebois have commented if disciplinary action has been taken against staff members involved in the incident. Instead, the news release issued at the same time as the Fleming report talked about how employees have been specifically instructed on how and when the OPP should be called in for a workplace safety issue.

“The system has been fixed, the system has been corrected. And that’s why in the report it talks about it being an education for everyone. It’s been an education for some of the staff as well. But as far as any concern at this time about a councillor following, in this situation, that is not the issue at all.”

In fact, Loosley agreed almost any member of council could be following a town vehicle at any given time.

“It’s a small town,” he says. “I pull out on Eureka Street, I’m following a town truck and down the main street. I’m not following the pickup – it’s just there in the traffic….that’s going to happen. I agree with that. I think there’s that, that’s the difference… you can do that – bumping into municipal staff, councillors would happen all the time.

“And that’s why you (staff) have to fill out the necessary forms and go through the proper process.”

Monday, the town’s Integrity Commissioner will speak to council about the proper way for councillors to approach problems, including they should never give direction to staff since that’s the CAO’s job. That virtual meeting is public and will be held at 5 pm.

The Independent approached Souch this week about the original police investigation and the report by John Fleming, however he did not want to speak publicly at this time, out of concern he might break the confidentiality rules councillors must follow when an issue is dealt with during an in camera (private) meeting.

He did say he was consulting a lawyer.