For the second time this year, Carleton Place Mayor Louis Antonakos faced down calls to resign over an alleged breach of confidentiality that one councillor pledged will result in yet another mayoral malfeasance complaint to the town’s integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze.
In a raucous Nov. 14 council meeting that looked like a scene out of an Al Pacino movie, the mayor dramatically took to his feet, clutched his chain of office, and threatened to leave. He raised his voice repeatedly to declare “you’re out of order” to Councillor Brian Doucett, who was chairing a discussion about an email he and fellow councillors received from Antonakos that contained confidential documents from in camera meetings predating most of their terms in office.
“This is a joke,” Doucett replied, to which Antonakos fired back, “You’re a joke.”
Councillor Theresa Fritz called out that Antonakos “always wants to leave when the going gets tough,” to which the mayor claimed he had the best attendance record of the past decade.
Doucett later warned the mayor, “I will be filing a complaint against you [with the integrity commissioner]. You’ll be duly notified.”
It certainly won’t be the embattled mayor’s first brush with the commissioner, nor will it be the last, as Carleton Place developer Volundur Thorbjornsson and former two-term mayor Paul Dulmage (who is considering a 2018 mayoral run) filed separate complaints against Antonakos with the commissioner in October.
Commissioner Swayze made a rare public delivery of a damning report at a packed public meeting in May, concluding that in 2012, then councillor Antonakos committed “the most egregious disclosure of confidential information I have ever encountered in nine years serving as an Integrity Commissioner. In my opinion, it should be dealt with severely.”
It appears that last month’s Dulmage complaint led Antonakos to compose a letter to the integrity commissioner on the town’s official letterhead, cc-ing senior staff and members of council, and attaching a number of confidential documents from almost a decade ago. Antonakos claimed the documents were public because he said they were referenced in an old newspaper article. But most councillors rejected his rationale, arguing that neither they nor staff enjoyed the legal privilege to view those documents.
Councillor Sean Redmond accused the mayor of having a problem understanding the meaning of confidentiality, and confronted Antonakos about what he said was an attempt “to smear a valued member of our community for your own gain.”
Fritz addressed Antonakos directly, saying “I had no reason to know what was in those documents. It has nothing to do with business that has appeared before this council chamber.”
In his defence, Antonakos said, “It’s very relevant because we have a complaint from the past mayor.”
“And you tried to discredit him, that was the goal of this release,” Redmond shot back. “I’ve only tried to provide facts,” Antonakos replied.
“They were marked confidential,” Redmond reminded the mayor. “At no point was the release of these documents discussed by the current council…My understanding is that there is a letter from a lawyer advising at the time that if these reports were ever released there could be disastrous legal effects. This was conveyed to the council at the time.”
Redmond pointed out that every single page of the documents was clearly marked confidential, admonishing Antonakos that “confidentiality means do not share, do not distribute, do not discuss, do not use for your own personal agenda…It has become more evident that following rules and the code of conduct and following confidential guidelines means nothing to you. You have no boundaries, you have no morals, no ethics, and no guidelines.”
Redmond reiterated his call for the mayor to resign, a plea he first delivered last May to the hearty applause of hundreds of local residents.
Watching the proceedings was Dulmage, who at one point got up to directly address Antonakos.
“I’m going to tell you to your face, you are a complete liar,” Dulmage said.
“There’s a confidential document that when I was mayor of this community even I couldn’t get my hands on, and you released it to the public and every councillor in here.”
Without getting into details, Dulmage alleged it appeared that while Antonakos was seeking relief from the integrity commissioner’s May decision on improperly releasing confidential information, “you went back and took a confidential document and released it. So either you’re stupid and a liar – one or both – one thing’s for certain, you honestly should consider resigning as mayor of this community.”
As the heated Tuesday evening session of council wore on, new bits of information slowly emerged from the mayor in response to intense questioning from council members.
Asked whether he sought advice about the release of confidential documents, Antonakos said he did ask town clerk Duncan Rogers about his planned actions.
“I cautioned the mayor that the [documents] were confidential,” Rogers told council.
Asked why he had such an interest in the confidential documents, Antonakos lowered his voice and declared: “I believe a crime has been committed, that’s why, regarding those two reports.”
“Did you go to the police then?” Fritz asked. “I did,” he replied, adding he has arranged a meeting with the provincial attorney general because “I believe a crime has been committed in this building.”
Antonakos claimed he was being “slandered” with “erroneous” and “vexatious” statements, and refused to respond to the call for his resignation.
The Nov. 14 drama was presaged by an earlier discussion of an Ontario Ombudsman report released last month that found members of council had “contravened the Municipal Act, 2001 and the town’s procedur by-law” last March when it chose to discuss in camera a statement by the mayor that appeared to have serious legal implications. While the report’s conclusion seems to boil down to a technical interpretation of one section of the Act regarding closed meetings that discuss “litigation of potential litigation,” no sanctions were recommended.
According to the report, in a mayoral statement delivered to council on March 7, Antonakos made a number of comments that appeared to open up himself and the town to a lawsuit. Despite this concern, the Ombudsman said at the time of the closed door meeting, “the town did not face a reasonable prospect of litigation with respect to the mayor’s statement.”
Most members of council disagreed with the Ombudsman’s finding, which conceded that the Municipal Act does not specifically define what constitutes “litigation or potential litigation.”
Redmond said the only thing that was done incorrectly was “when we looked at the opportunity of having the town and us sued, we erred on the side of caution.”
Fritz said she agrees with transparency, and has consistently questioned the number of in camera sessions at council. But she added her 28 years in journalism provide her with a unique understanding of the legal issues that arose last march. “I used my professional judgment, feeling that there was potentially a cause for litigation.”
Doucett also disagreed with the report, adding that in protecting the municipality against potential litigation for what he believes “to this day to have been libelous and slanderous statements,” in camera discussions are permitted and based on a judgment call. “The Ombudsman’s office has basically stated that unless we have a crystal ball to predict the future we should never go in camera. That’s simply ludicrous. Given the same set of circumstances, statements made, and unauthorized actions taken by Mayor Antonakos earlier this year, I would make the same decision. I am unrepentant in protecting the interests of the taxpayers of this municipality….If not for the actions of the mayor, this whole issue would have never happened.”