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Bradford councillor breached code of conduct: integrity commissioner

Report finds Cheraldean Duhaney failed to recuse herself over conflict of interest and failed to ensure confidentiality of closed-session meeting
Bradford Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney, who represents Ward 1, is shown in this file photo.

Bradford council is facing its first-ever integrity commissioner’s report detailing a breach of the town’s code of conduct.

However, the issue has been delayed due to a combination of technical difficulties and a lack of quorum during the regular meeting of council Tuesday evening.

Principles Integrity, the town’s integrity commissioner, was scheduled to appear before council virtually to address the issue, but problems with the equipment prompted council to move to open forum while staff dealt with the technical issues.

While council intended to return to the presentation after open forum, a demonstration from striking library workers and supporters eventually resulted in several members of council leaving, which led to the meeting’s adjournment and prevented council from dealing with the issue.

The integrity commissioner’s report, dated Sept. 6 and attached to the agenda for the council meeting, found Ward 1 Coun. Cheraldean Duhaney in breach of the code for failing to ensure the confidentiality of a closed-session meeting and failing to recuse herself over a conflict of interest during the same meeting on May 16.

The report came in response to a complaint from Ward 6 Coun. Nickolas Harper, filed with the integrity commissioner on May 18, in which he alleged the aforementioned breaches and also accused Duhaney of bullying and belittling the members of council who raised concerns about Duhaney’s actions during the meeting.

According to the report, the May 16 meeting was held in closed session so councillors could discuss and suggest candidates from a list of nominees for the town’s civic awards, including the Volunteer of the Year Award, for which the list of 12 nominees included Duhaney’s daughter.

The integrity commissioner found Duhaney “promptly” suggested her daughter for the award, urging other councillors to vote in favour, and when several members suggested she recuse herself for a conflict of interest, Duhaney rejected the notion and continued to urge support for, and voted for, her daughter.

Despite council choosing another candidate, the report notes Duhaney again promoted her daughter during discussion of the male and female candidates for Athlete of the Year, at which point Duhaney questioned why there couldn’t be two recipients for the volunteer award as well.

The integrity commissioner found that while not a pecuniary interest defined in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, an award to an immediate family member constitutes a disqualifying interest under the common law and the code of conduct.

“In the circumstances of this matter, the councillor’s participation in the deliberations around her daughter’s nomination for a civic award was a clear breach of her conflict of interest obligations under the code of conduct ... The reality is, any onlooker would rightly conclude that Coun. Duhaney would have difficulty impartially considering the nominations for Volunteer of the Year, given that her own daughter was among the nominees,” the report stated.

Since Duhaney was the only member of council to attend the meeting virtually, the report notes she may not have heard other councillors raise concerns about the conflict, but it also states Duhaney had attended several training sessions in late 2022 and early 2023 in which the rules around avoiding conflicts of interest were a key component of each.

That virtual attendance brought with it another problem, as the integrity commissioner noted Duhaney was not wearing headphones during the meeting and admitted her young child was present in the room for an unknown period of time.

While the integrity commissioner referred to the incident as “nothing more than a mere technical breach and momentary inadvertence,” it also said any member who chooses to participate virtually in a closed-session meeting is obligated to maintain the confidentiality of that meeting.

“Coun. Duhaney should have, at a minimum, been using headphones. We find that Coun. Duhaney failed to duly ensure complete confidentiality so that no part of the closed session could be overheard, although under the circumstances, we find this to be no more than a technical breach,” the report stated.

In his complaint, Harper alleged Duhaney belittled the members who raised concerns about her actions during the closed meeting, and he said Duhaney characterized their actions as micro-aggressions, accusing council of bias, and calling the process as unfair.

The report notes Duhaney “flatly denies” any councillors raised the possibility of her having a conflict of interest, but the integrity commissioner found they did raise those concerns and that Duhaney’s accusations were a “pre-emptive attack” to prevent council taking action against her.

“By accusing them of micro-aggressions and bias, and by alleging the process was unfair, reflects a cynicism and hypocrisy about fairness, impartiality and the need to adhere to ethical standards which the community expects from all of its elected officials,” the report stated.

While the integrity commissioner did not find Duhaney’s comments rose to the level of bullying, it did find her actions counterproductive.

“It is most likely that this complaint would have been resolved sooner and without need for a public report, had the councillor simply acknowledged her error, demonstrated contrition, and accepted accountability,” the report stated.

As a result of the findings, the integrity commissioner recommended Duhaney’s council pay be suspended for one week.

Questions sent to Duhaney on Monday were not returned in time for publication, but she did provide a statement shortly thereafter.

"I accept the findings of the integrity commissioner and want to say I regret this mistake. I was participating virtually during the meeting in question, and was suffering from sciatica at the time. It simply did not occur to me in my excitement as a mother to see my daughter nominated that I should declare a conflict of interest. That said, I better understand this concern now.

"I know the public rightly expects council members to hold ourselves to a higher standard, and the public has my commitment that I will do exactly that. My goal is to serve and empower our community, and I appreciate this chance to listen and learn in order to better lead,” the statement reads.

When the issue will next appear on council’s agenda has yet to be determined.

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Michael Owen

About the Author: Michael Owen

Michael Owen has worked in news since 2009 and most recently joined Village Media in 2023 as a general assignment reporter for BradfordToday
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