Richmond Hill Councillor Karen Cilevitz docked 90 days pay over harassment

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The audience erupted in applause as Steffi Goodfield hugged her friends and family, celebrating the end of a year-long dispute with Ward 5 Councillor Karen Cilevitz over harassment, intimidation and bullying.

Richmond Hill council voted on Monday to suspend Cilevitz’s pay for 90 days, the highest penalty that the Municipal Act permits.

The council decision came after Integrity Commissioner Deborah Anschell found Cilevitz breached the code of conduct by bullying and intimidating Goodfield, a Richmond Hill resident, who produces open mic music events in town.

It also includes a grant for Goodfield, in an amount equal to the pay suspended, for the purpose of promoting music in the town.

Six councillors and Mayor Dave Barrow voted for the motion put forward by Regional Councillor Carmine Perrelli, in the absence of Ward 3 Councillor Castro Liu and Cilevitz at the first council meeting of the new term.

“Like many residents in Richmond Hill, I’ve been watching in utter disbelief as the Karen Cilevitz saga has been unfolding,” Perrelli said. “The time has come to hold everyone accountable for their actions and to put a stop to this type of inappropriate behaviour once and for all.”

Cilevitz, who said she would not comment, referred yorkregion.com to her lawyer, Kevin L. MacDonald.

“Councillor Cilevitz respects the decision of the integrity commissioner,” MacDonald wrote in an email.

He said the councillor apologized publicly months before the complaint moved forward and offered to meet Goodfield to resolve the matter. These efforts were all rejected.

Perrelli brought forward the motion after Ward 4 Councillor David West’s motion, which proposed to reprimand Cilevitz for violating the code of conduct, failed to carry.

The regional councillor said he hoped a tougher sanction on Cilevitz — rather than a reprimand — would send a clear message so that everyone on council would “think twice before behaving like this.”

The Integrity Commissioner’s 23-page report, released on Nov. 13, documented the exchanges between Cilevitz, Goodfield and her friend, Matt Bergman.

Last December, Cilevitz started sending text messages to Goodfield regarding an interpersonal conflict in which she was not directly involved, according to the report.

Cilevitz repeatedly demanded information about an alleged conflict between her partner and Bergman, a Thornhill musician.

“ … who heard what and why? And if you’re hearing something 3rd person, do you question it?,” Cilevitz was quoted asking the complainant Goodfield in one of her text messages.

The exchange carried on into January, followed by a dispute over the naming of a music event that Goodfield and Bergman organized.

After learning “Ward 5” was being used — the ward Cilevitz represents on council — in the name of their open mic music event in Richmond Hill, the councillor attempted several times to ask Goodfield, through text messages and voice-mails, to remove the term.

“. . . be advised Steffi, that if you in any way, or Bergman in any way calls your Sunday night jam at Archibald’s The Ward 5 event, there is going to be serious problems that you are both going to have to deal with legally. Nobody does this. It’s just not done. Only councillors who are elected to wards use that terminology . . . ” Cilevitz said in a voice mail on Jan. 25 to Goodfield.

The voice mail, along with many other emails and texts in the past years were determined “aggressive” and an “error in judgment,” according to the integrity commissioner’s report.

The report also found Cilevitz incorrect when she claimed exclusive domain over the use of the term “Ward 5.”

The integrity commissioner found Cilevitz to be in violation of Section 7 of the code, and recommended council issue a reprimand.

Section 7 states “All members have a duty to treat members of the public, one another and staff appropriately and without abuse, bullying or intimidation . . .”

“I take no pleasure from the result of this report,” said Goodfield, who addressed council before a motion was presented.

“The toll on me and on my community, all this completely unnecessary stress and toil of the past year, is incalculable.”

In the report, Goodfield said that, as a person undergoing treatment for a stage 4 cancer diagnosis, she initially wanted to ignore the texts and emails, but later decided to file a complaint to resolve the “continuous chain of troubling communications from Councillor Cilevitz.”

Seven other public members also appeared as delegates at the council meeting in support of the complainant.

In the delegates’ speeches, Ward 2 Councillor Tom Muench was praised for helping Goodfield move forward with the complaint.

Roxiane Alexander, who was sitting in the front row at the meeting, shook her head as the delegates spoke about the contributions Goodfield has made to the community and what negative impact she and Bergman have had to endure during the prolonged dispute.

“I have known Karen Cilevitz for a number of years to be a person of the highest integrity and always willing to help anyone,” said Alexander, a Richmond Hill resident who has worked with Cilevitz since 2007 on the preservation of the David Dunlap Observatory lands.

She found it odd that no one mentioned that Cilevitz helped raised money to support Goodfield’s fight against cancer through a fundraiser in March 2017.

Alexander, expecting a debate on council, said she was shocked to see all council members present agreeing to suspend Cilevitz’s pay for 90 days.

“They were ignoring so many facts,” Alexander said. “That was really disturbing to me. She already apologized. Why did they keep saying she never apologized?”

Calling the council meeting an “organized public bashing of Karen Cilevitz,” Alexander pointed out that many councillors “are no strangers to code of conduct breaches and integrity commissioner investigations themselves.”

In May 2018, previous Integrity Commissioner Nigel Bellchamber found Muench in breach of the code for not treating a colleague in a respectful manner after he “spoke forcefully” to Cilevitz, as well as deliberately misleading his constituents on other councillors’ actions and “inappropriate” use of fund for sign payment, as yorkregion.com previously reported.

Council voted to publicly reprimand Muench and suspended his pay for 30 days. He apologized afterward.

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