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Integrity commissioner grilled by councillors

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Hamilton’s Integrity Commissioner wanted more time to conduct investigations, but councillors balked at extending the two-month deadline.

Earl Basse, who has been the city’s integrity commissioner since it was created in 2008, asked councillors to revise the bylaw and extend the deadline for the commissioner to submit a report within four months rather than 60 days. Basse said he has many complaints ongoing with some of them complex and he can’t complete them within the required two- month time frame. There have been times, he said, when he has had to investigate five complaints at the same time.

In 2013, he had four complaints to examine, with one of them thrown out because it was frivolous.

In 2013 council set a fixed 60-day deadline for all investigations of complaints, but Basse subsequently missed the deadline on four occasions, including a complaint made against Mayor Bob Bratina over an allegation he bullied City Manager Chris Murray. Basse cleared Bratina at the end of the year, and apologized to council.

“It takes a lot of time to review council meeting minutes, and committee meeting minutes,” he told members of the governance review sub-committee April 28.

Basse, who has been criticized for the time he has taken to investigate a complaint, said he fields up to 20 calls from the public annually, and up to 12 calls from councillors seeking advice. Under the integrity commissioner bylaw Basse’s duties include educating the public about his job, providing advice and guidance to politicians, investigation of complaints and adjudication. The position is also supposed to be independent of council, so any imposed deadline may impact the commissioner’s independence to do his job properly.

Basse said he is committed to closing out an investigation as quickly as possible. Adding another two months “doesn’t mean I will slow down my investigation.”

Members of the governance review sub-committee rejected Basse’s request. Instead, the 60-day limit will remain, but if the commissioner needs more time to investigate a complaint, it will be up to council to grant the needed time. Politicians did not specify a deadline, but it is understood that an investigation could take 120 days or longer to complete.

“Four months is nearly a half a year,” said Mountain councillor Terry Whitehead, who has been the subject of an investigation. “It’s not a pleasant place to be. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark agreed the 60-day time limit was appropriate.

“I still think the system is worthwhile,” saidClark, despite some public criticism that Basse’s job is redundant.

The sub-committee’s recommendation will be sent to the next meeting of the audit and finance committee meeting.

Basse’s contract with the city is scheduled to be up in July 2015.

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