Carleton Place Mayor Louis Antonakos read a brief statement at town council’s March 14 session forecasting local confusion and provincial “turmoil” in response to last week’s motion authorizing Deputy Mayor Jerry Flynn to “act as the spokesperson for council on matters dealing with the media.”
Antonakos, who previously said that council’s decision flew in the face of protocol, called the motion “poorly thought out” and “too vague,” adding it “leaves the door open for far too many interpretations.”
The embattled mayor – whose relationship with council has generated national media coverage – mentioned his concern about mixed messages emanating from council and “potential confusion in our community on important issues,” but he expressed greater fears about “the precedent it sets across the province within the other 444 municipalities.”
Indeed, Antonakos believes that different interpretations of the Carleton Place motion by other town councils could “cause tremendous turmoil, which in turn will cause a direct and indirect burden on the taxpayers of Ontario. The political ramifications are endless, from misunderstandings on councils, to misunderstandings in communities, to the misuse of this kind of motion for political gain or intentional political disruption.”
Deputy Mayor Flynn disagreed, arguing in a post-meeting comment that “the Municipal Act does not state that the mayor must be council’s official spokesperson. I do not see where the many interpretations would come in to play. This kind of motion is not something that is commonplace, but in this case, there was a lack of communication with our local newspaper from the Mayor, so I was chosen as his replacement.”
Antonakos subsequently told Hometown News that “the rules we follow are not that simple, and even the experts don’t always agree. My point is that when a council goes against tradition, then the Municipal Act can become complicated, especially when you have to also take into consideration our code of conduct before ruling on any issue or concern.”
While relevant sections of the Municipal Act dealing with the respective roles of council members and mayors have been consulted at recent meetings, Flynn does not believe that “a legal opinion would be required, as it is just a shift of responsibility that council – in a 6 to 1 vote – considered appropriate for the situation.”
In his defence, Antonakos points to Section 226 of the Municipal Act, which declares that “a municipality may, with the consent of the head of council, appoint a member of council to act in the place of the head of council.” But in this particular instance, the mayor says “I was never asked” for consent.
Nonetheless, councillors again voted on March 14 – with the Mayor abstaining – to reaffirm the media spokesperson motion, leaving Antonakos anxious about potential communications snafus.
“Many people in the community choose who they want to listen to for a reason, the same way some choose to vote for one person over another to become mayor,” he explained. “Some people require clarity, while others require detail, and even others require both. Depending on where the information is coming from, or from whom the information is coming from, or the level of understanding an individual spokesperson has regarding an issue, [this] may require a number of clarifications on public statements, which may in turn cause timely information to become only legacy information.”
Antonakos points out that councillors “each sit on different committees and have different understandings and detail regarding those committees. My job as mayor has been to understand each and every committee, and all the details. If the motion stands as is, this now will be an added responsibility of the deputy mayor when dealing with the media.”
Flynn, however, appears nonplussed with his new responsibilities. “I have been contacted many times throughout my political career for comment on items that involved myself, as well as personal comments on council proceedings,” he remarked. “I do not see that this is something that will change. I would encourage individual members of council to respond to requests for comment, or if they are not comfortable, refer the request to me as official spokesperson to give an opinion of council as a whole. Added responsibility is something I was aware of and prepared to deal with.”
At Tuesday’s meeting, Antonakos publicly expressed his hope that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Association of Municipalities of Ontario “can work together and figure this one out before this kind of motion gains legs and replicates across Ontario.” While the mayor told Hometown News that “at this time, I don’t believe it’s required to contact these provincial bodies,” he was confident that “they will become aware of what has transpired here in Carleton Place – through the media – very soon.”
Asked about what role the province could play in this dispute, a Municipal Affairs representative replied, “municipalities have the authority to choose to hire a media spokesperson or to appoint a member of council and/or staff to act as a media spokesperson,” adding “the Ministry does not have a role in assessing compliance with the Act.”
Meanwhile, Flynn appears confident in council’s decision. “In my opinion, and the opinion of the rest of council, we have done nothing that, given the circumstances, would be considered untoward,” he said. “In municipal politics there are plenty of checks and balances to ensure that proper procedure is followed.”