Before a packed gallery of residents and local and national media, Carleton Place Town Council passed a motion March 7 authorizing Deputy Mayor Jerry Flynn to officially “act as the spokesperson for Council on matters dealing with the media.”
The motion capped a heated and dramatic meeting that followed on a front-page Ottawa Citizen story last week in which Flynn accused Mayor Louis Antonakos of subjecting Council members to “threats, bullying, intimidation and total lack of respect” as well as running “personal vendettas.” The Citizen story quoted a recently released integrity commissioner’s report that, while clearing Antonakos of any wrongdoing, nonetheless raised concerns about damage to Carleton Place’s reputation as a result of what it called a “toxic relationship” between the Mayor and Councillor Doug Black.
In addition, Antonakos was the subject of a March 1 Canadian Gazette article in which reporter Tara Gesner wrote “for more than a year [Antonakos] has made himself less available to this newspaper, even ignoring requests for comment on a number of important stories.”
In response to the media stories, as well as an item introduced by Councillor Brian Doucett (who said that the Mayor “continues to refuse to respond to the media about important issues facing the community”), Antonakos delivered an impassioned, lengthy statement claiming what was being said about him in various fora was “malicious, abusive and insulting,” in addition to being “defamatory, denigrating, and unauthorized.”
While claiming he is in constant contact with local and national media, Antonakos asked Doucett for the names of other Council members who were alleged to have accused him of not speaking with the media. “You are asking me to respond to unidentified individuals and hearsay,” the Mayor declared, asking why Council members had not dealt directly with him regarding their concerns. Antonakos, at times appearing emotional as he dabbed his brow, demanded to know how and when such statements were apparently shared with Doucett, whether a secret meeting had been held without including the Mayor, and why he had not been included in discussions prior to this item appearing on the March 7 agenda.
“Is it not our duty as Council members to communicate with each other and resolve any issues rather than running to a national newspaper and making vague platitudes and erroneous statements like the Deputy Mayor has done?” Antonakos asked, Traditionally, mayors are invested with the role of speaking on behalf of Council as a whole, and Antonakos implied that Flynn’s comments were a violation of that protocol.
Antonakos also stated that “our municipality under the previous Mayor was under attack by a developer, the same disgruntled developer who to this very day continues to attack myself, this Council and our municipality.” Antonakos said the unnamed developer had “violated the Town’s planning department application process, the building department application process, the Planning Act, Building Code Act and various other violations that I am not legally permitted to discuss, as these are in-camera items.”
Antonakos challenged Doucett to introduce a motion to publicly release the in-camera information about that individual “so that we can then discuss these issues with the media without violating the oath of office that we took 27 months ago.” (Notably, the Ottawa Citizen reports that local developer Volundur Thorbjornsson has filed a complaint with the Ontario Ombudsman alleging Antonakos has been “violating the Town’s code of conduct.”)
Antonakos said he felt “violated and disrespected for my ten years of service to the community that I love and respect.” Councillor Black tried to cut off the Mayor’s lengthy speech on a number of occasions, and was met with cries of “let him speak” from the packed public gallery.
The Mayor concluded his speech with a recitation of local achievements and a motion to video-stream Council meetings so that all residents could watch from their homes, an initiative that had been rejected months earlier and which was voted down once again.
Doucett responded to Antonakos by saying the comments “were close to being a little insulting, but you obviously think I insulted you somehow with this request. It is within my right to put anything on the agenda…I do not have to justify to you or any other member of this council my desire to discuss a particular topic.”
Doucett and Antonakos continued to spar, with Doucett saying “I think there’s a problem that needs resolution… I think it is undermining this Council’s efforts to keep the taxpayers informed. I don’t believe there has been sufficient communication.”
“Do you have any evidence of that?” Antonakos asked.
“I don’t have to provide anybody any evidence,” Doucett replied.
All councillors, including Deputy Mayor Flynn, voted in favour of the motion on speaking with the media, with Antonakos abstaining. Councillor Black informed angry members of the public that they would not be allowed to speak to the issue because it was council business only.
*Note: This story was updated on March 8. Councillor Black did not chair the meeting as previously indicated in the story. The meeting in question was chaired by Councillor Sean Redmond.