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Councillor Agarwal breaches city code of conduct

By CJ Goater Nov 21, 2023 | 2:47 PM

At-Large Councillor Rajni Agarwal (File Photo)

Thunder Bay’s city council has approved the Integrity Commissioner’s suggestion that the remuneration for Councillor Rajni Agarwal be suspended for 30 days (2 pay periods) commencing with the next pay period.

Integrity Commissioner Jeff Abrams highlighted that a lesser penalty would’ve been received if the councillor showed more cooperation, “this is part of our ethics as integrity Commissioners to find course correction when we can to deal with issues informally we think they result in a better solution, one that’s in keeping with the public interest, and had we found some cooperation on the part of Counselor Aggarwal in that respect, yes, our conclusions would have been different. Our recommendations would most likely have been different. If that had occurred.”

Councillor Gieurtuga brought up the idea of a reduced penalty, “I do really believe in progressive discipline, and I believe that, you know, a month which is 1/3 of the maximum sanction of three months pay is a little bit high on progressive discipline, so  I would propose that councillor Agarwal for the inappropriate behaviours and actions that she is, you know, has said tonight that was wrong. Be docked one pay period and that was in light of progressive discipline.”

Councillor Bentz agreed with the reduced penalty but ultimately it did not pass.

The report comes after the city’s independent Integrity Commissioner received a complaint against the councillor on June 14, 2023, alleging that she had engaged in conduct contrary to the Council Code of Conduct. That same day the town houses’ property management team sent a notice to Councillor Agarwal cautioning that she was in breach of the Harassment Policy and admonishing her to cease and desist from harassing the complainants.

According to the report from the Integrity Commissioner, “the Councillor repeatedly harassed, and gave ‘the finger’, to property owners who were carrying out exterior grading work at their condominium property with the knowledge and approval of their property management, purported to direct how they should carry out the work, and invoked her authority as City Councillor to threaten the owners with police and by-law enforcement action.”

The code of conduct violation occurred when “the councillor came over to the area outside the fence and demanded that the owners stop the work. From the sidewalk, she yelled over the fence at the owners for undertaking the work, claimed to be representing the City, claimed they were breaking laws, and threatened to call the police.”

Image from Integrity Report

“Gesturing is inappropriate and I said so in an e-mail directed on the 14th of August. It was wrong of me and I am clear to say that again today. The gesture was wrong.” Stated Councillor Agarwal in regards to the display

Councillor Agarwal however did not feel she invoked her authority “The claims that I went, invoking status, I don’t agree with that. Public safety was a concern. This report, setting aside the gesturing has some very, incorrect statements in it that influence the behaviour of our counsellors and the narration that’s gone to the public.” she added

The incident occurred on Beverly Street on June 13, 2023, when residents staying at a townhouse on Oasis Lane that backs onto Beverly were conducting remedial yard work to adjust the grade of their rear yard, to address flooding and drainage issues that occur as a result of improper grading.

A trailer transporting the soil parked temporarily on the sidewalk of Beverly Street, while the soil was being conveyed over the fence. The owners secured padding across the top of the fence to protect it from damage during the work. They also ensured that someone
was near the vehicle at all times, to move it, if necessary.

Before conducting the work the residents obtained the approval of the condominium board in conjunction with property management. No building or other City permit was required for the work involved.

According to the report, “a councillor does not act in a management capacity for the city. A councillor is not authorized to personally direct the activities of either the city’s police or of municipal law enforcement. Although Councillor Agarwal claimed that she was “representing the city”, a Councillor does not in any way ‘represent the City’ when they show up at a property and purport to tell the property owner what to do.”

A councillor has no greater authority than any other member of the public, even where she believes she is observing a by-law infraction. The most she could have done during her interaction would be to politely ask the owners whether they had the appropriate approvals to undertake the work.

The Integrity Commissioners report can be found here.