Mayor Bratina has accused RTH of publishing "false and defamatory material" against him and his staff. This is my response as editor, after careful investigation of the story behind the accusation.
By Ryan McGreal
Published January 28, 2011
The bizarre matter of Joey Coleman's Sunday, January 23 blog entry about Mayor Bob Bratina's schedule came to my attention on Wednesday morning, when I received an email from Mayor Bob Bratina in reply to my letter to Council of that morning.
The Mayor's reply read in full:
I'll respond if you remove the false and defamatory material against me and my staff that you allowed to be published.
I was surprised and taken aback by this. I replied:
To what material are you referring?
Mayor Bratina replied:
You should read your own blogsite.
If you can refer to specific instances in which you feel a false and defamatory statement was published, I'll be happy to investigate them.
By way of a reply, Bratina forwarded a chain of emails between Joey Coleman and Peggy Chapman, Bratina's Chief of Staff, to me, and wrote:
You may want to give my chief of staff a call. Frankly this is not good use of my time dealing with journalism of dubious legitimacy.
The accusation was related to Joey Coleman's blog entry in which he wrote that the Mayor's office had made a "mistake" to request the Monday, January 24 General Issues Committee (GIC) meeting on a date that the Mayor was scheduled to be in Regina to attend the Big City Mayors Conference.
I immediately called Ms. Chapman, and she told me the following:
After the call, I promptly removed the two paragraphs at issue from the blog entry and added an explanatory note. Then I followed up with Coleman to get more details about the timeline of events and the communications that were made between Coleman and Chapman.
Coleman and Chapman both confirm that they spoke on the phone on Friday.
Coleman states that the call took place just before 5:00 PM, and that they discussed whether Coleman would be able to set up a two-way live stream so that Mayor Bratina could join the meeting from Regina, as well as whether it would be possible to use Skype to do this. According to Coleman, Chapman asked him to send her the URL for his live stream and he emailed it to her during the call.
Chapman disputed this in an email response to me, claiming she spoke to Coleman "long before 5pm Friday" and that "the trip was canceled before" their call. She did not state whether she had discussed a two-way feed at the call, writing that she was "not sure what the other things have to do with" the issue.
As it turns out, the original email I received from Mayor Bratina was a forwarded chain of emails between Chapman and Coleman. The first message in the chain is from Chapman to Coleman asking him to phone her, and it is date-stamped Friday, January 21, 2011 4:53 PM.
The next email is a reply from Coleman, date-stamped Friday, January 21, 2011 5:00 PM, and includes a link to Coleman's live stream URL. This is consistent with Coleman's account of the time line and the nature of their conversation.
I have sent three follow-up emails to Chapman since early yesterday morning asking for clarification with respect to the conversation, but she has not responded as of this writing.
Given the information at hand, it seems reasonable for Coleman to have concluded that Mayor Bratina was still planning to go to Regina, as of Coleman's phone conversation with Chapman on Friday.
Coleman wrote the piece on Saturday, and I published it on Sunday. As far as I can tell, at some time between Coleman's conversation with Chapman on Friday and my publication of the piece on Sunday, the Mayor canceled the trip to Regina.
RTH is committed to providing information that is factually accurate and treats information fairly, to the very best of our abilities. As editor, I take the allegation of publishing "defamatory" content very seriously - especially when the allegation comes from the Mayor himself.
In this matter, and to the best of my knowledge and judgment, I believe Coleman made a good-faith attempt to do his journalistic due diligence and ensure that his information was correct, and that he practiced responsible communication in reporting the news as he understood it.
Coleman wrote that a mistake was made by Mayor Bratina's office. He never specified that the error was made by a member of the administrative staff.
What follows is a full statement by Joey Coleman on the matter, including a detailed background and a timeline of events.
Mayor Bob Bratina and the Office of the Mayor of Hamilton is taking issue with a blog post I wrote on Saturday which was published Sunday.
Due to the accusation by the Mayor that I have written "false and defamatory material against [him] and [his] staff" and the publication of this accusation, I'm forced to publicly respond.
The post in dispute is titled, Council Needs Concrete Goals to Overcome Personality Conflicts.
I reported that the Mayor was scheduled to be in Regina Monday, noted that he is operating a small office with only one staff member holding previous service at City Hall, that the Mayor requested a rescheduling of the meeting due to the conflict with the event in Regina and that a mistake was made in the existence of the scheduling conflict.
The Mayor's attendance in Regina was canceled after 5:00pm Friday, when his Chief of Staff told me he was going to Regina and publication on Sunday.
By the time the information was published on Sunday, it was incorrect. The Mayor was in fact not going to Regina.
I apologize for this error.
I do have to respond to the accusation of defamation: an error is not defamation.
The chief magistrate's decision to raise this matter to the level of defamation caused me some concern. After all, defamatory libel is an indictable offence under the Criminal Code. More commonly, it is dealt with as a civil matter under the Libel and Slander Act - but is still against the law.
I must treat the statement with the seriousness and respect owning to the office of which it originates - the Office of the Mayor of Hamilton.
On Sunday evening, Mayor Bratina's Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman expressed concerns about the writing (about which more below).
On Monday, Mayor Bratina stood up at Council and during his first opportunity to speak, publicly accused me of journalistic misconduct.
On Wednesday morning, the Hamilton Spectator's Andrew Dreschel referred to Bratina's speech against me in his role as Mayor in front of the media cameras and Council by writing the following:
You sensed the leadership vacuum almost immediately after city manager Chris Murray and Roberto Rossini, general manager of finance, wrapped up their presentations.
That's when Mayor Bob Bratina came roaring out the gate but only to remind folks that it's actually 'Brian Timmis' stadium not 'Timmins.'
After that brief history lesson, Bratina then praised staff for all their hard work and peevishly sniped at blogger Joey Coleman for suggesting he wasn't going to be at that day's meeting.
Bratina then sat back and said he looked forward to hearing councillors' questions.
Not exactly a mayoral moment.
Later that morning, Mayor Bratina wrote in an email to RTH editor Ryan McGreal that my writing included "false and defamatory material against [him] and [his] staff."
I have investigated further in this matter. First, I provide a timeline of the events that have transpired since the publication on Sunday. Second, I provide the timeline and information used in writing the article. Lastly, I will add the information that I've learned since starting my follow-up investigation on Sunday.
Soon after the piece was published, the Mayor's Chief of Staff Peggy Chapman requested to speak by phone. We spoke around 9 p.m. Sunday night.
She expressed concerns with numerous points in the article and accused me of personally attacking the Mayor's scheduling assistant by claiming that a "mistake" had been made in the Mayor being double-booked.
I wrote that the Mayor had called the meeting on Monday and had asked Council to reschedule to Thursday, January 27 due to the scheduling conflict caused by his planned attendance in Regina.
Ms. Chapman asked for me to disclose my sources for this information. I told her I had spoken to City staff and Councillors, but would not be disclosing those emails to the Mayor's office.
She expressed concerns that I was receiving poor information and that I should have called her before publishing on Sunday. In fact, I had spoken to her Friday at 4:55 PM.
The conversation between Ms. Chapman and me on Sunday evening ended with her requesting that I publicly apologize to the Mayor's scheduling assistant and that I immediately retract the post.
I responded that I would review my information and my methods of gathering that information, and would consider the request of the Office of The Mayor for a public apology.
We reached an agreement that I would contact her as soon as I completed my review and would inform her if I would be issuing a public apology, the conditions of which were not set.
No timeline was discussed for the completion of this process.
I work every weekday morning until at least noon, and Monday was no exception. I rushed directly from my place of employment to City Hall with just enough time to set up all the gears, cables, and cords to provide a live video stream of the meeting.
I did not have an opportunity to speak with any city staff or councillors prior to the meeting - everyone was hectically preparing for the 1:00 PM Special General Issues Committee meeting. I did not have time during the business hours preceding the meeting to complete my review.
Unknown to me, Mayor Bratina was expecting some action on my part prior to the 1:00 PM meeting.
No timeline had been provided by the Mayor's Office as to a deadline to their request, and I had no knowledge that the consequence of failing to meet this deadline would be what followed - his use of his Mayoral position to speak against me in front of City Council, those in attendance at City Hall, and those watching the live video stream.
I was balancing the audio on the live stream when he made his statements about me and did not hear it. According to city councillors I spoke with and the published accounts in the Spectator, Mayor Bratina accused me of spreading false information about his then-canceled trip to Regina.
Following the conclusion of the meeting, around 6:00 PM, I went to the Mayor's office to speak with Peggy Chapman about the matter. She had someone else in her office, she asked if I wanted something, I told her I would come back at a later time prior to Council on Wednesday when she was not busy.
I left City Hall thereafter.
I believe that the Mayor's had settled the matter with his public snipe at me and was reviewing my journalistic process but it was not my top priority - I was trying to arrange a live stream for Wednesday.
Wednesday morning, I awoke to read Mr. Dreschel's column, quoted above, which made mention of the matter.
Soon thereafter, Mayor Bratina sent an email to RTH editor Ryan McGreal, in which Bratina wrote that my writing was "false and defamatory material against me and my staff."
Mr. McGreal contacted me, and in light of the serious accusation by the chief magistrate, took down the portions of my writing which Mayor Bratina and Ms. Chapman were contesting and for which they were demanding an public apology.
McGreal rightly provided full disclosure of the accusations by Mayor Bratina and Ms. Chapman. Like me, he recognized the seriousness of the accusation by the chief magistrate and the fact the courts must take an accusation from the holder of this office with the utmost seriousness.
Ryan McGreal added a note to the article which read in part:
This blog entry originally noted that the Mayor "runs a small office" and stated that staff made a "mistake" in scheduling the special GIC meeting on a date when the Mayor would be unavailable. Mayor Bratina contacted RTH by email today and called this statement "false and defamatory".
According to Peggy Chapman, Mayor Bratina's Chief of Staff, the Mayor had already decided before January 23 that he would attend the GIC instead of the Big City Mayors Caucus.
Chapman stated in a phone conversation with RTH that it was not a "mistake" on anyone's part to schedule the GIC for January 24, and that the Mayor did not need to be in attendance at the meeting. "The Mayor hasn't said much within the GICs. He's letting everyone else deal with it and not demanding to speak - it's not agenda driven in that way."
It was after City staff and some other councillors recommended the Mayor attend the GIC that he changed his plans. Chapman added that the Big City Mayors Caucus would not have enough mayors in attendance to achieve quorum for policy making, so there was less value in Mayor Bratina attending.
Chapman also argued that the staff working in the Mayor's office are non-political and that she, as Chief of Staff, decides where the Mayor goes and what he does. She took strong objection to the suggestion that an office staffer had made a "mistake".
I have edited this blog entry to remove the two paragraphs in question pending further investigation.
On January 17, the Hamilton Spectator reported on Twitter that the Special General Issues Committee scheduled for January 24 (the meeting that occurred Monday) had been rescheduled for January 27.
The next day, I checked the City website and noticed the meeting remained on the schedule for January 24. I contacted the Deputy Clerk asking for confirmation of the cancellation. The response was the City was determining if the date of the meeting could change.
Later that day, January 18, I replied, asking:
I'm not aware of any section of the City's procedural bylaw which enables the cancellation or rescheduling of a meeting after public notice is issued.
I'm planning to write an explainer regarding the City's procedural bylaw in regards to meetings to help explain why there is a debate regarding rescheduling the meeting.
As it is a special meeting of a committee, the procedural bylaw is not as definitive as to who can call a special meeting of a committee.
Could you clarify who requested the special GIC meeting for next week?
The City Clerk wrote in response:
If you go to section 3.4 of the Procedural By-law, you will note the Mayor may at any time summon a special meeting of Council.....the request out to members of Council at the moment is to reschedule the Jan 24th date to Jan. 27th for a scheduling conflict.
Rescheduling the date of a meeting happens on occasion....this is not uncommon. The motion passed at Council was about giving staff direct to prepare a report. When staff direction is provided we try to be inclusive by indicating which committee and when. It is not uncommon for a date to be changed...it may be because more time is required to complete the report, or if other scheduling conflicts arise.
Section 3.4 goes further to establish that members of Council will be provided with 48 hours notice of the calling of the meeting. Therefore, there is enough time to see if the 27th date works.
Members of Council informed me that the request for rescheduling came from the Mayor's office as he had a scheduling conflict due to the Big City Mayors Caucus in Regina.
Combined with the statement of the City Clerk, this information is verified.
The Mayor's office dispute this version of events.
A few members of Council informed me - on the condition of anonymity because the discussions were only by email and they were not authorized to disclose to the public the content - that they were unwilling to consent to an accommodation of the Mayor's schedule.
I continued to monitor the situation and planned to write if the meeting was rescheduled.
On Friday, January 21, I emailed the City Clerk and Deputy Clerk at 8:59 AM asking when they agenda would be posted for Monday's special. They responded the reports would be posted by 9:00 AM Monday.
Later Friday, at 4:53 p.m., I received an email from Ms. Chapman with the subject line "Can you give me a call Joey?" and her signature block as the body.
I called Ms. Chapman as requested. She enquired whether I would be providing a live video stream of Monday's meeting and asked how the Mayor would be able to view it from Regina as he would be attending the Big City Mayors' Caucus.
Ms. Chapman further enquired if it were possible to arrange a two-way feed so that the Mayor could be seen at Council from Regina. I advised that it would not be my place to arrange such a set-up and noted that the City has a computer for the projector in Council Chambers and it would be possible for it to be used if city staff could arrange. The discussion then turned to whether Skype would be a solution for what the Mayor's office was considering.
During the conversation, at 5:00 PM, I emailed Ms. Chapman the link for the live video stream.
The conversation ended with Ms. Chapman noting that it was great that the Mayor would be able to watch the meeting online from Regina.
This is the timeline which led to writing the blog post on Saturday, which was published on Sunday. Where the dispute arises is when, between 5:00 PM on Friday and publication on Sunday, the Mayor decided to cancel his trip to Regina.
Since Sunday night, I've learned the following:
Only hours after his statement in front of Council, Mayor Bratina stated at the Citizen of the Year awards he was originally to be in Regina to meet with Big City Mayors but cancelled for the stadium meeting.
Even if Council had approved the reschedule, the motion passed at City Council January 12 required report back to GIC by January 24. This was ratified by Council. This would have meant that Council would have needed to hold a special meeting to reconsider the January 24 meeting date. The reconsideration motion would require 2/3rds majority to pass.
A councillor informed me Wednesday evening that the Clerk proposed the solution which brought the discussion regarding rescheduling to an end.
I emailed the City Clerk on Wednesday morning in regards to the matter of scheduling the dates. I asked:
[The Mayor's Office] claims that he did not request the GIC meeting on the 24th. He says that city staff made that request to him.
[The Mayor's Office] claims that it was not his request to reschedule the GIC meeting from the 24th to the 27th, that it was the request of city staff.
Is this true, were the meetings scheduled solely at the request of city staff and was the email asking to reschedule at the request of city staff as well?
As of this writing, I have yet to receive a response. This is not unexpected. The City Clerk may be consulting the City Solicitor in light of the accusation by the Mayor that I have published "false and defamatory material against [him] and [his] staff."
In terms of whether there was a "mistake" made by the Mayor's office - and I will note that I stated "his office" in the original blog post - it is clear that there were a misunderstanding about his scheduling.
Merriam-Webster defines mistake (noun) as "1: : a wrong judgment : misunderstanding"
An astute student of politics knows that it is important for leaders to be seen leading. Both the stadium debate and Big City Mayor's meetings are events at which the Mayor should be leading.
Councillors state the Mayor called the meeting for January 24, which conflicted with the Big City Mayor's meeting.
It is quite possible that the Mayor's office intended this double-booking to occur and he did not intend to be at the General Issues Committee meeting regarding the stadium. If, as according to City Councillors, he requested a rescheduling of the meeting, this seems unlikely.
I wrote, "Bob Bratina is running a small office of only three staff, only one of whom has previous experience at City Hall, as administrative assistant to former Ward 15 Councillor Margaret McCarthy."
The following line of my post stated "The scheduling of a special GIC meeting when the Mayor is unavailable is a mistake his office should not have made."
In terms of the size of his office being "small," this is an expression of opinion and can very easily be relative. I compared his office, which started with three staff, to the offices of Mayors Eisenberger and Di Ianni. Both of the previous mayors each had a staff of eight individuals.
Compared to a staff of eight, it is accurate to state that a staff of three is "small."
I have observed the work of Ms. Chapman since the Mayor took office, as she is the individual responsible for media relations in the Mayor's Office. She works long hours and handles many files. She is a dedicated public servant.
My noting that the Mayor is running a small office and that only one of them has previous City Hall experience was meant to convey that the office is still growing and the double-booking is a mistake that is completely understandable.
In terms of the overall tone of the article, it was critical of Council for not rescheduling as requested by the Mayor.
Councillors I've spoken to have professionally and privately expressed their disagreement with my statement that "[t]hese personality clashes are now showing in how Council is being conducted and conducting themselves." We had discussions, they've expressed their viewpoints, and I've expressed mine. This civil exchange of ideas is how a democracy functions.
I honestly believed this matter had ended Monday after the Mayor publicly sniped at me. I stated that I was not pursing the matter further and would not be engaging in a tit-for-tat. I remain committed to this goal.
I bear no ill will towards the Mayor or any member of his staff. I wish them nothing but the best.
Due to the serious nature of the accusations, I must repeat: Nothing published was defamatory and I strongly dispute the published statement by the Mayor that it was.
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