Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse's report clears Mayor Bratina of bullying City Manager Chris Murray, but it fails to address the heart of the matter.
By Adrian Duyzer
Published November 13, 2013
Hamilton's Integrity Commissioner Earl Basse has released a report that clears Mayor Bob Bratina of a complaint that he bullied City Manager Chris Murray during a council meeting last April.
Unfortunately, this report fails to address the heart of the matter, namely: did Bratina engage in behaviour that can reasonably be characterized as bullying, abusive and/or harassing?
The complaint was filed by City Council after an outburst that Bratina directed at Murray during a heated council meeting. You can read the report here (thanks to the Hamiltonian for hosting the report; the Hamiltonian thanks the Spectator for providing it).
According to the report:
The Complaint alleges that, during the lengthy discussion of the Motion, the Mayor stepped away from his place at the table, approached the City Manager and said something to him. Unfortunately the Video Stream did not record the Mayor's exchange with the City Manager. However, it did show the Mayor leaving his position at the head of the "Horseshoe" and returning after 17 seconds. The Video Stream did not show where the Mayor went.
Investigation revealed that the Mayor did leave his place at the middle of the "Horseshoe", approached the City Manager and stated to the Manager:
"I can't believe you said that! I can't believe you said that!"
This was confirmed during an impassioned exchange between Mayor Bratina and Councillor Farr during the Council Meeting of April 24, 2013 after the Motion had been referred by to the Clerk's office. This was also confirmed by other witnesses.
Although the words Bratina used are not obviously problematic, the manner of the exchange was disturbing enough to Council that the vote to refer the matter to Basse was unanimous. In other words, this was seen by those present as something quite serious.
Basse has now cleared Bratina, writing that:
The Mayor's tone and comments to the City Manager at the Council Meeting of April 24, 2013 were not appropriate but I do not find it in contravention of either Section 13.2 or 17.1 of the Code of Conduct for the following reasons:
a. The City Manager did not feel intimidated or threatened by the Mayor's actions nor did he believe his professional reputation had been injured.
b. Other employees in close proximity to the City Manager did not feel intimidated or harassed;
c. The tone of the discussions relating to Councillor McHattie's Notice of Motion was fervent and there were some emotional and accusatory exchanges during that discussion. The Mayor's tone in his exchange with the City Manager reflected the emotion of the meeting but was not considered to be threatening.
To me, the crux of the report is this part: "The City Manager advised he was surprised at the tone and content of the Mayor's comments to him but was neither intimidated nor threatened by the exchange nor did he feel his professional reputation was injured."
The problem is that Murray's opinion on this is not necessarily relevant. It is certainly not objective, given the power imbalance between the Mayor and the City Manager. Murray is unlikely to raise a stink over this if he feels it would harm his current position, job prospects, etc.
To make a poor analogy, this is like asking an abused woman whether her husband is abusive. Depending on what is going on she may say he is not, even when the facts may clearly indicate the contrary.
In other words, Basse's report is based on how Murray and other staff members felt, as opposed to being based on what Bratina actually did. Worse, it is based on how Murray and other staff members say they felt or currently feel, which, given the power imbalance at hand, is questionably reliable.
The key question here is not whether Murray felt bullied. The key question is whether Bratina engaged in behaviour that can reasonably be characterized as bullying, abusive and/or harassing.
It was Basse's job to answer this question. It was certainly also his job to answer it in a timely manner (it took him seven months). I don't believe either of those responsibilities were met.
UPDATE: Joey Coleman has graciously provided video of the incident and subsequent council debate about it.
The video above shows Bratina walking - with purpose - to Chris Murray and the immediate reaction of those nearby to the comment.
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