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Councillor sorry for 'inadvertently' leaking secret city papers

'I acknowledge the seriousness of the confidential obligations as a member of council and I take full responsibility for inadvertently sharing confidential information,' says Barrie Coun. Clare Riepma
Coun. Clare Riepma represents Ward 1 in Barrie.

Barrie Coun. Clare Riepma disclosed confidential documents to a member of the public, says a report released Monday by integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig.

But Riepma’s actions were unintentional, the code of conduct complaint came too late and the Ward 1 councillor won’t be penalized.

“I have apologized to those affected by this breach of information,” he said. “I acknowledge the seriousness of the confidential obligations as a member of council and I take full responsibility for inadvertently sharing confidential information. No penalty was imposed by the (integrity commissioner) on this matter.”

Craig’s report says the complaint alleges the dissemination of private information to a resident who possessed confidential general committee minutes dated Oct. 20, 2020, watermarked with Riepma’s name, which were collected by city clerk Wendy Cooke during the resident’s meeting with Mayor Alex Nuttall on June 20, 2023.

General committee minutes from Oct. 20, 2020 were dealing with confidential personal information and a solicitor-client privilege matter, a workplace investigation.

Craig’s report of the situation does not mention a workplace investigation.

“I determined that (Riepma) did disclose confidential in-camera documents to a member of the public,” she wrote in her decision, dated Jan. 5 but published March 4. “I accept (Riepma’s) evidence that his disclosure was inadvertent.

“Even so, (Riepma’s) actions seriously undermined the public trust that undergirds the confidentiality requirements of closed meetings," Craig added.

Craig said timelines also played a role in her decision.

Complaints of this nature must be submitted no more than one year after the alleged violation took place, and no action will be taken on a complaint received beyond this deadline.

Craig concluded the complaint against Riepma was filed with her office more than one year after the disclosure of the confidential information. 

“This places the alleged violation by (Riepma) two months beyond the limitation period set out in the code,” she wrote. “But for the application of the limitation period, I would have found a breach of the code.”

Barrie’s code of conduct is an agreed-upon understanding by all members of council about what standards they should meet in the individual conduct of their official duties. 

The complaint, by an individual Craig did not identify, was made August 2023. The breach took place in April 2022.

At issue was disclosure of confidential information, including personal information and aspects of deliberations of city council that were the subject of an in-camera or closed-door meeting.

The 10-page confidential document dated Oct. 20. 2020 in question is from the closed-door general committee meeting.

The subject matter of this meeting has not been disclosed by Craig.

Exactly how the minutes of the closed-door meeting got into the resident’s hands was not definitively determined by Craig.

The integrity commissioner is responsible for administering the code of conduct and assists in maintaining high ethical standards at the City of Barrie. Craig is an independent accountability officer given authority under the Ontario Municipal Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

The Municipal Act states that if the integrity commissioner determines a councillor has contravened the municipality’s code of conduct, the council can impose a penalty — either a reprimand or forfeiting as much as 90 days’ pay.

A reprimand is a penalty under the Municipal Act, a strongly worded condemnation of a member of council.

Last week, city council passed a motion acknowledging it had received a Jan. 5, report from Craig related to a code of conduct investigation concerning the release of confidential information by a city councillor during the previous term (2018-22), along with a legal opinion on the matter.

The motion also said the councillor wished to apologize for releasing the confidential information.

The integrity commissioner’s report was to be published March 4, the motion also said.

Cooke is to prepare additional protocols for the handling of confidential agenda information circulated to members of council.

“I recommend that the city institute a secure distribution process for the return and destruction of confidential documents,” Craig wrote.