Carleton Place council struggles with reputation damage

Posted on: May 9, 2017

Matthew Behrens

A slew of high-profile, negative media stories has left Carleton Place with the risk of the town being viewed as a political Peyton Place instead of a signature location to “meet me on the Mississippi.” Front-page exposés alleging backroom malfeasance, a number of integrity commission complaints, and a mayor who appears to shun various media outlets have contributed to a rarely discussed but ever-present tension at weekly council meetings.

That tension’s most recent manifestation was a statement by Deputy Mayor Jerry Flynn on behalf of council that declared Mayor Louis Antonakos “violated the rules” by improperly allowing a community member to address a March 28 meeting. Flynn said that the allegations levelled at council were  “uninformed and unfounded. Council members speculate that [the resident’s] statements were scripted by someone other than himself. His words attempted to leave the impression that council had in some way, disobeyed the Municipal Act, but in reality all correct procedures were followed and documented.”

At subsequent April council meetings, a number of councillors have clearly referenced the need to strictly adhere to procedural bylaws regarding public delegations.

Earlier this year, Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze released a report documenting “a toxic relationship between the mayor and Councillor [Doug] Black. It is clearly beyond constructive rivalry and is damaging to the town.” While Swayze found no violations by Antonakos and expressed his concern about Black’s “casual approach to disclosing confidential matters,”  he warned both men that they could face sanctions if future complaints against them were validated.

In his only public response to the controversy swirling about Carleton Place, Antonakos read a lengthy statement at a March 7 council meeting claiming what was being said about him in various fora was “malicious, abusive and insulting,” in addition to being “defamatory, denigrating, and unauthorized.” Later that evening during a regular meeting of council, he abstained on a motion authorizing Flynn to officially act as council’s media spokesperson, which was supported by all other councillors.

While Antonakos warned the motion would cause “tremendous turmoil” across Ontario, his prediction has not come to fruition.

Meanwhile, Antonakos now faces another integrity commissioner complaint alleging he secretly recorded and shared in-camera council meetings as part of his 2014 election campaign. Notably, council recently voted to ban its members from bringing cell phones to any of their meetings.

When recently asked by Hometown News to respond to questions about his alleged violation of rules, Antonakos said he could not comment.
Despite ongoing tensions, weekly meetings of council continue without obvious signs of dysfunction. “We are hearing public concern over what council is going through,” Flynn tells Hometown News. “Anyone who approaches me, and I believe I speak for the rest of council, is assured that the town business carries on as usual and that the turmoil we are going through does not affect our decision making.” If anything, Flynn insists that the challenges they face have made council stronger and more determined to do what is right for the community.

Flynn’s biggest concern is “for the health and well being of the members of this council who are dealing with issues that no council should be subjected to,” which in an Ottawa Citizen interview he bluntly referred to as “threats, bullying, intimidation and total lack of respect” coming from the mayor.

When asked how the current impasse with the mayor might be resolved, Flynn deferred saying he would await the latest findings from the integrity commissioner, to be delivered at Carleton Place town council on May 9.

In a March interview with Hometown News, Antonakos insisted he is running a healthy ship of state, viewing conflict arising from “six members of council who have chosen to shut the public out of meetings by not supporting video streaming of council proceedings to the community, censoring public statements from public meeting minutes, making questionable motions and outright attacking my office with misinformation.”

Asked by Hometown News whether he would agree to mediation to address the the concerns of councillors who are feeling intimidated. Antonakos replied, “No, the answer is not mediation, the answer is accountability, responsibility and transparency in serving the constituents of our community.”

As the roiling spring waters of the Mississippi race by the municipal town hall, future Tuesday evening council meetings continue to promise potential political fireworks as Carleton Place faces a 2018 municipal election.