Towndale reprimanded; council backs away from clamping down on councillor’s use of social media

Justin Towndale. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston, File)

CORNWALL – Cornwall city council has formally reprimanded Coun. Justin Towndale for a social media post last year regarding senior staff that breached council’s code of conduct.

But council stopped short Monday night of collaring the councillor’s social media use, as recommended by the integrity commissioner.

The censure followed two separate investigations by Integrity Commissioner Tony Fleming into a social media post by Towndale, critical of administration, after he found out through other channels that Fire Chief Pierre Voisine took a job in his home municipality.

Fleming told council Monday night that Towndale is entitled to his beliefs for more transparency and accountability within city administration but the method by which he did it in this case was the problem.

“I don’t take issue with the fact that councillor Towndale’s entitled to have strong beliefs on that issue. He’s also entitled to advocate for policy change. What I found…is whenever a council member uses social media to publicly criticize a staff member, that is breach of council’s code of conduct,” Fleming said.

The final vote on the reprimand was 9-1 with Coun. Eric Bergeron the only one against it. Coun. Justin Towndale was not allowed to vote.

Bergeron asserted that the entire scenario was “a little bit political” and that he didn’t see enough to warrant punishment. Bergeron says Towndale “speaks for accountability in government” and that he “shares his frustration” with the lack of information flow in the corporation.

The reprimanded is only a formal written condemnation of Towndale’s actions, in this case through council resolution. There is no fine or stripping of duties or responsibilities.

As for controlling Towndale’s future social media behaviour, most of council was hesitant to do that saying the integrity commissioner’s recommendation to never allow Towndale to comment about staff on social media was vague and it was too much of a grey area.

Instead, council agreed to start working on a social media policy. A draft is expected to come to council sometime in June.