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Push to reduce Agarwal’s sanction fails on tie

City council narrowly rejected a second attempt to reduce the penalty Coun. Rajni Agarwal will face for violating council's code of conduct.
Coun. Rajni Agarwal speaks in council chambers earlier this month. (File photo)

THUNDER BAY — A second push to reduce the penalty faced by Coun. Rajni Agarwal for violating city council’s code of conduct divided council Monday, failing on a tie vote.

Coun. Trevor Giertuga requested a re-vote on his proposal to halve the 30-day pay suspension recommended by the city’s integrity commissioner on Monday.

Giertuga called that a “progressive discipline” approach, suggesting the recommended penalty, expected to amount to well over $3,000, was overly harsh for a first-time offence.

Principles Integrity, the firm that serves as integrity commissioner for the city, has said Agarwal’s failure to take responsibility for her behaviour or to express contrition were factors in the significant penalty.

Giertuga’s proposal had lost on a 5-5 tie vote last week, after which council went on to approve the penalty nearly unanimously.

On Monday, Giertuga called for a re-vote on the issue, calling that appropriate because two council members, Mayor Ken Boshcoff and Coun. Kristen Oliver, hadn’t been present for the original decision.

With Boshcoff and Oliver splitting their votes however, the outcome didn’t change.

Boshcoff and Coun. Albert Aiello, Coun. Mark Bentz, Coun. Greg Johnsen, Coun. Michael Zussino, and Giertuga, voted to reduce Agarwal’s penalty. Coun. Shelby Ch’ng, Coun. Kasey Etreni, Coun. Andrew Foulds, Coun. Brian Hamilton, Coun. Pasqualino, and Oliver voted against.

Agarwal herself declared a conflict.

No councillors aside from Giertuga spoke on the issue Monday.

Agarwal had come into conflict with residents on Beverley Street, near her real estate office, on June 13 of this year.

She objected to the residents moving soil over their back fence into a vehicle temporarily parked on the sidewalk while carrying out grading work, saying it was a safety and accessibility violation.

Principles Integrity slammed her “confrontational and harassing” response to the residents, which included giving them the middle finger, and concluded there had been no safety isssue.

Perhaps more seriously, the firm concluded she had falsely claimed to represent the city while telling them to move the vehicle and threatening police action – a move their report called an “egregious abuse of authority.”

Giertuga argued Monday that Agarwal’s actions responded to a real bylaw violation, even if that had been minimized in the commissioner’s report.

“It did state they had the condo board’s approval, but the condo board cannot approve a blocked sidewalk,” said Giertuga, noting that is a bylaw violation without a city permit.

Giertuga was ruled out of order on that point by Boshcoff, enforcing what city leaders claim is proper procedure that bars discussion of the facts of the case brought against Agarwal.

“Members can speak to the sanctions, whether they agree with them or not. They cannot speak to the investigation,” agreed city clerk Krista Power.

That approach has generated pushback, with Giertuga repeating an argument made by Agarwal — that previous councillors had the opportunity to fully defend themselves, while she has not.

“Last term of council, Aldo Ruberto, when he was faced with monetary discipline, he was allowed to speak on anything … and he did so at length,” Giertuga said Monday.

Ian Kaufman

About the Author: Ian Kaufman

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