Coun. Josh Matlow broke code of conduct on Twitter, should face 10-day pay suspension, says commissioner
Toronto Coun. Josh Matlow broke council’s code of conduct by criticizing two city bureaucrats on Twitter before retaliating against one of them after she filed a complaint, the city’s integrity commissioner has found.
The 51-page report, released Friday by Integrity Commissioner Jonathan Batty, outlines two complaints lodged by city officials over Matlow’s Twitter posts. In the first, the Ward 12 representative and recently announced mayoral candidate accused a city staff member of lying to him regarding the opening of washrooms in spring 2022. In the second, Matlow referred to the newly appointed interim city manager Tracey Cook as the "very wrong person" for the job.
Batty said Matlow violated city council’s code of conduct, which says members must treats city employees appropriately and not engage in reprisal.
In turn, the commissioner has recommended the council suspend Matlow’s pay for 10 days.
The news comes just days after the councillor announced his intention to run for Mayor of Toronto in this year's byelection.
Matlow has disputed the findings. After the commissioner released the report Friday, the councillor issued a statement, saying he believes “elected representatives have a responsibility to put residents first.”
“That includes taking a stand when encampment clearings are done violently, advocating for park bathrooms and water fountains to be open and functioning, and demanding that billion-dollar projects are never approved based on misleading figures,” he said.
Within the findings, Matlow argued that his tweets were protected by his Charter right to free expression – a notion that Batty dismissed.
Matlow did not issue an apology in his statement, but said he will “work to ensure that Senior Staff are encouraged to provide their best advice to Council and all Torontonians, independent from political pressure.”
Council will consider the integrity commissioner’s recommendations at its meeting next week.
FIRST TWEET INVESTIGATED
The first complaint was filed by former city manager Chris Murray over a tweet published by Matlow in mid-June 2022.
In the tweet, Matlow said he had been “lied to” by staff about when park washrooms opened for the season.
Matlow alleged that the general manager of the city’s parks department Janie Romoff had lied to him in response to a motion Matlow tabled asking whether the city met its timelines for opening public facilities.
“For this summer, all of our washrooms were open by May 24 and all water fountains have now been activated, a few washrooms are down for repairs and approximately 5% of our total water fountains are currently inoperable due to mechanical issues,” Romoff said in the email, included in Batty’s report.
Matlow posted a screenshot of the email to Twitter and wrote, “I don’t appreciate being lied to. Nor should you. All park bathrooms were not opened by May 24 this year. That’s unquestionably untrue.”
Murray alleged this tweet damaged the manager of the park’s department’s reputation and made her so upset she was unable to speak at council.
He also said it led to an “onslaught” of online harassment directed at the bureaucrat.
In response, on Friday, Matlow said that evidence provided by residents demonstrated that Romoff’s claim was false.
“They just weren’t open,” he said.
Matlow says Batty’s findings contradicted Romoff’s email, which he says were written at the “private direction of the mayor [...] to kill the prolonged conversation about service.”
SECOND TWEET INVESTIGATED
The second complaint was filed by interim city manager at the time, Tracey Cook, after Matlow called her “the very wrong person” for the job on social media.
“I believe the mayor & council chose the very wrong person,” Matlow posted to Twitter on July 19.
Matlow was the only councillor to vote against the decision to appoint Cook to replace Murray after he stepped down in June.
The councillor accused Cook of omitting facts in information given to council about former mayor John Tory’s SmartTrack transit plan.
In Friday’s findings, Cook said that Matlow “impugned her professional integrity and personal reputation.”
Cook announced her retirement as a civil servant in January 2023.
INSTANCE OF REPRISAL
At a March 3 meeting, Matlow asked a city staffer if they were deliberately withholding information on the SmartTrack project from the committee, Batty found.
Matlow’s comments were determined to have acted as a reprisal against Cook after she filed her complaint.
Initially, the commissioner recommended docking Matlow five days’ pay, but later increased it to 10.
Batty wrote that it was necessary to impose a stiff penalty because Matlow's use of social media represented “an escalation” of misconduct.
SOME ALLEGATIONS DISMISSED
Not all of the allegations made against Matlow were upheld by Batty in Friday’s findings.
For example, Batty determined Matlow was in fact entitled to express his opinion about Cook’s professional record, and didn’t violate the code by voicing his opinion that she shouldn’t have been appointed city manager.
That being said, Batty found Matlow broke the code of conduct rule against bullying or intimidating employees by choosing to criticize both staffers on social media, and again when he “falsely” harmed Romoff’s reputation by accusing her of lying.
Batty also found Matlow’s tweets violated the city’s anti-harassment policy.
“A member of council who Tweets critically about a specific City employee subjects that employee to attack in a forum in which they cannot respond.”
In his Friday statement, Matlow said, “in all instances, the information Staff provided to the public, and the actions they took, supported former Mayor Tory’s political direction rather than provide independent and objective advice.”
Going forward, Matlow said he “ will work to ensure that staff are encouraged to provide their best advice to council and all Torontonians, independent from political pressure.”