Shawna Stolte

We have talked about a lot of bad behaviour at city halls in the two years this podcast has been running. We’ve seen bullying and threats on social media. We have seen councillors who see their entire reason for existence as disrupting and derailing council meetings. We’ve seen activists and volunteers abused and cross-examined for hours as councillors call their integrity into question. There are councillors who don’t understand the most basic aspects of their job, who constantly need to be reminded about how meetings are supposed to be run. There are councillors who frankly don’t work very hard, but get re-elected because nobody ever knows. There are councillors who work part time on other jobs. There are councillors who seem to take pride in just how rude they can be to constituents.

None of these things apply to Shawna Stolte. Stolte has been a hard-working councillor since she was elected in 2018. She has worked especially hard on Burlington’s tree by-law, housing affordability, and ensuring openness and transparency in council business. In council meetings she is polite and respectful and the opposite of disruptive – even at a meeting that talked for three hours about how much pay she should be docked.

Whether you agree with specific policies or not, Stolte has been an exemplary councillor. She has now announced that she will not seek re-election in October 2022. Why? Because of complaints made by her colleagues against her of revealing confidential information. These complaints followed Stolte’s campaign to have clearer rules via an updated Closed Session Protocol, a campaign that has frequently exasperated and irritated colleagues who make it clear they can’t see any point.

We dedicate this whole episode to discussing one of the most counter-productive and unpleasant events in recent Burlington history.

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  1. Spoiler Alert!!!!! – the following comment was found to contravene the commenting policies of the Burlington Gazette’s Owner/Editor/Publisher/Proof-reader and Distribution Manager and was not posted.

    “I think that the findings of the report were/are a foregone conclusion. First, there is the extremely
    narrow scope of the investigation – both in terms of timeframe and functional direction. It was
    unlikely from the outset that Council would be found to have actually contravened the
    mandated ‘closed meeting protocols’. The real question, which the report does not answer, is
    how does this Council compare to its predecessors and other municipal Councils in the
    number and intent of the closed meetings; and is this Council as open and transparent as
    it can (and should) be both pre and post closed meeting? These are the measures that
    Councilor Stolte was addressing and these are the questions that should be answered. It is
    ironic that a mayor who campaigned to ‘open up the shutters of COB and
    let the light in’ now leads one of the least transparent Councils in recent memorv. IMO.”

  2. Cathy – you may be technically correct on the privilege matter. However, if Council decides not to go into closed session and discusses the matter in open forum, then they have certainly waived confidentiality and may, in fact, have waived privilege as well. The matter is complex as you obviously know.

    As far as Councillor Stolte is concerned, I don’t share your assessment and find it rather strident and lacking either empathy or balance. Council’s treatment of their “colleague” was a shameful display of public pillorying, going on far too long and being enjoyed far too much by those who should have controlled the session. Councillor Stolte’s transgression was in favouring more open and transparent discussion of topics (such as the Batemen sale) that directly affect the public interest. She erred but she erred on the side of open government and public accountability. I hope that she will run again and that she will establish a campaign that promises to deliver on the empty 2018 rhetoric of the Mayor and her “brave supporters”.

  3. I am not a fan of Stolte. Her interview with the Gazette revealed who she really is. She threw her former administrative assistant under the bus, along with her fellow rookie councilors (they’re over their heads), the city manager, the mayor, staff (who are intentionally and inappropriately withholding information from the public). She didn’t have a good word to say about anybody. Clearly, she is a loner who has contempt for those she works with.

    Watching the livestream meeting, a few things were clear:
    – She has no contrition
    – She minimizes her breaches as a “toe over the line”, which the Integrity Commissioner challenged
    – She is willing to scorched earth by taking down Nisan and Galbraith with her Spec column, which the Integrity Commissioner said opened her up to steeper penalties

    After three+ years on the job, she doesn’t understand the purpose of the council vote to go into closed meetings. I was embarrassed for her when she thought her line of questioning to the IC was a “gotcha” moment. The council vote is simply to confirm going into a closed meeting. The vote is not about waiving privilege on the legal and staff reports. Privilege can only be waived in the closed session. If council voted against going into a closed meeting, they just wouldn’t go into a closed meeting. The reports remain confidential – which presumably all council members have in their possession. Anyone with governance experience knows this.

    The 905er is focusing on the inappropriate increase in closed door meetings – which they have not, nor has the councilor, been able to back up.

    The more central question is why the Ward 4 councilor chooses to breach confidentiality on the purchase of Ward 5’s Bateman school. She is clearly opposed to the purchase, but why? Is there really anything sinister going on or is she the parochial politician who is opposed to supporting significant investment in another ward because the pot will be empty for her ward?

  4. Lynn, you are correct, Councillor Stolte made her decision, based on the actions of her fellow council members on Tuesday night.

  5. I will listen with interest. I watched the meeting and was disgusted with the behaviour of some council members and the Mayor. Residents should watch it when it is posted. Ironic that they began the meeting denouncing abuse and then treated their colleague as they did. I may be wrong but I thought that Stolte decided she won’t run for re-election not because of the filing of the complaint but rather because of the shocking way she was treated at the meeting.

    A good leader and decent people would have set an entirely different tone, one where they were respectful of each other’s feelings and would want to aim to get the matter of the punishment dealt with quickly and with a view to coming together to go forward in a positive way. Both sides could have made concessions to do so. Instead it seemed to me that some relished the chance to read long insulting prepared statements and humiliate and attack a colleague. Three hours!! None of us believe their nonsense about this being a cohesive council that treats people with respect after seeing that. We even had different rules for different speakers. It was actually worse than anything I ever saw with the old council and which supposedly was going to stop with this one.

    I appreciated Councillor Kearns’ respectful actions and also Councillor Sharman being the only one to say that he hopes Stolte will reconsider her decision to not run again.

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