Mayor facing possible censure
Mayor Bob Bratina once again faces possible council censure over the contentious $30,000 raise given to his chief of staff.
Councillors were outraged in December after the mayor bumped up Peggy Chapman’s salary 33 per cent to $120,000 from $90,000, then attributed the decision to human resources staff.
Bratina later apologized and took responsibility for the decision, staving off a planned in-camera debate about whether he contravened the city’s code of conduct.
But Bratina reignited the debate this week by arguing in an email to The Hamilton Spectator, subsequently published in an Andrew Dreschel column, that he “left the matter of compensation … to the outcome of a review by Human Resources.”
That prompted Councillor Sam Merulla to call for the formal censure of the mayor, a motion he’ll put forward at next Wednesday’s council meeting with Councillor Chad Collins as a seconder.
“We’re at our wits’ end when it comes to the drama coming out of the Mayor’s Office,” said Merulla after the issue was discussed at length at Wednesday’s general issues committee meeting. “He needs to man up and accept responsibility for this mess.”
Merulla said his main beef is the public flip-flopping on who is to blame for Chapman’s big-ticket raise and “continual attacks on staff.” But he noted the mayor’s publicized email raises other “troubling issues.”
In the email, the mayor also blamed the $8,000 vacation payout that lifted his chief of staff onto the 2011 sunshine list, a development recently highlighted in The Spectator, on the newspaper’s “unrelenting” and “misleading” coverage of Chapman’s raise.
The mayor also said he’s asked for an investigation — complete with “signed affidavits” — into how The Spectator found out Chapman’s 2011 salary is on the sunshine list. All public salaries of $100,000 or more must be posted online later this month under provincial law.
Several councillors questioned Bratina’s apparent about-face on exactly who was responsible for bumping up Chapman’s salary.
“It really bothers me when you make an apology that doesn’t seem to be sincere,” said Councillor Terry Whitehead.
Councillor Brad Clark said the mixed message “becomes a real problem for the credibility of this (council) body.”
The mayor declined a request for comment after the meeting. But during the debate, Bratina argued the latest Spectator column took his words out of context.
He said he apologized to HR staff for his “faulty use of the language” in explaining how his chief of staff got a raise, but simultaneously denied sole responsibility for Chapman’s salary bump.
“I did not decide to give my employee a raise,” he told councillors. “An annual review occurred and on the advice of HR, an amount was settled upon. I approved it.”
The mayor argued council should be more concerned about how a city employee’s salary information got in the newspaper. (The original Spectator story about the sunshine list did not actually contain Chapman’s salary information. Instead, those details were provided to The Spec by the mayor the next day.)
“Someone felt malicious intent to create an event that would bring discredit to my office and my employees,” Bratina said. “The source of this can hardly be explained in any way other than a breach of the code of conduct that applies to our staff.”
City manager Chris Murray confirmed the mayor asked for an investigation into whether staff with access to the city’s sunshine list passed on confidential information. But Murray added he is still consulting with HR and legal experts to determine whether an investigation is necessary or appropriate.
He said Wednesday it isn’t clear whether city policy forbids releasing salary information that is destined to be made public anyway.
Councillors also went in camera to discuss Chapman’s vacation pay. Council will have the chance to vote on the censure motion next Wednesday.