Investigation COC2021-001

Council Code of Conduct Complaint Investigation COC201-001

Following an independent investigation stemming from a complaint received by City Council on April 15, 2021, Councillor Buck Buchanan faces sanctions for breaching Red Deer City Council’s Code of Conduct Bylaw. By a majority vote on July 26, 2021, Council accepted the findings in the investigator’s report, which conclude that Councillor Buchanan breached three sections of the Code of Conduct Bylaw.

During the August 24, 2021 Council meeting, three of the sanctions imposed were removed. 

Council Code of Conduct Complaint Investigation C-01-2021 FAQs

Has The City received a formal Code of Conduct complaint?

Yes, after lengthy informal discussions with Councillor Buchanan failed to resolve the issue, a formal Code of Conduct complaint (C-01-2021) was submitted by Mayor Tara Veer in response to public and staff complaints. The formal complaint alleges Councillor Buchanan breached the bylaw through his social media activity in January 2021 and prior actions, causing City Council to lose leadership credibility and frustrating The City’s pandemic response efforts.

What was the outcome of the complaint?

A committee made up of Council members reviewed the complaint and voted in favour of hiring a third party investigator. SAGE Analytics Inc. was hired to investigate the complaint and report back to Council. According to the findings SAGE, a social media post made by Councillor Buchanan in January 2021, combined with his prior actions amounted to a breach of three sections of the bylaw.

SAGE determined these actions were disrespectful to the local pandemic response efforts and increased a division in the community between individuals in favour and opposed to health restrictions. SAGE’s report finds that through Councillor Buchanan’s actions, The City’s reputation was damaged, and The City’s pandemic response efforts were negatively impacted. They also determined he demonstrated a pattern of conduct where he made negative comments that did not promote public confidence in The City’s pandemic response efforts.

Read the Council Code of Conduct Complaint Investigation Report C-01-2021 (pdf).

Were there sanctions imposed?

Yes, SAGE provided a list of recommended sanctions in the final report and Council ultimately resolved to require that Councillor Buchanan do the following:

  • Issue a public apology to Red Deer residents, businesses, staff and Council for his actions and social media post on January 27, 2021, which caused increased confusion and division in the community during a time of crisis; and this apology be provided to the satisfaction of Council, during a public portion of a Council meeting.
    • During the August 24, 2021 regular Council meeting, Councillor Buchanan made a formal apology to residents, businesses, City staff and Council for his actions. Council was satisfied that the apology met the criteria under the sanction imposed on July 26.
  • Arrange an in-person meeting with the AHS Central Zone Medical Director, or designate to offer a personal apology to Alberta Health Services for any harm caused by his public comments during the pandemic response.
    • On August 19, Councillor Buchanan met in-person with Catherine Bulek-Lachman, Public Health Officer / Executive Officer, AHS Environmental Public Health to offer a personal apology for his actions on social media on January 27, 2021. This fulfills the requirement of the sanction imposed by Council on July 26.
    • The third party contractor hired to conduct the investigation into Code of Conduct Complaint C-01-2021, Sage Analytics, recommended the apology be made to Catherine Bulek-Lachman.
  • Be suspended from all Council committees and all Deputy Mayor rotation duties until sincere apologies are provided.
    • With the apology to residents, businesses, City staff and Council during the regular Council meeting on August 24, and the formal, in-person apology to Catherine Bulek-Lachman, Public Health Officer / Executive Officer, AHS Environmental Public Health on August 19, Councillor Buchanan is now eligible to recommence his duties on Council Committees and return to the Deputy Mayor rotation following a motion passed during the August 24 Council meeting.
  • Complete a social media course selected and paid for by The City of Red Deer that aligns with typical media training for City staff.

Read the Council Code of Conduct Complaint Investigation Report C-01-2021 (pdf)

Did Council hear from Councillor Buchanan?

Councillor Buchanan was interviewed as part of the investigation and indicated he did not agree that he had breached the Bylaw. He was also given full opportunity to present his position prior to Council making their decision to adopt the findings of the investigator and impose sanctions.

Do the sanctions impact Councillor Buchanan’s term on City Council?

Since Councillor Buchanan was elected by the people, he continues to serve as a Red Deer City Councillor.

Did SAGE recommend all four of these sanctions?

No, SAGE additionally recommended a reduction in Councillor Buchanan’s committee pay. Council did not accept this recommendation, since Councillors are paid a base salary and not by the meeting, but Council did add a requirement that Councillor Buchanan obtain social media training.

How much did the investigation cost?

The total cost of the investigation, which was paid for by The City, was approximately $20,000.

How long did the process take?

Councillor Buchanan’s comments of concern were made on social media on January 27, 2021. Two months of informal discussions then took place before a formal complaint was filed on April 15, 2021. SAGE Analytics Inc. was retained on May 12, 2021 and presented their final report and recommendations to Council on July 6, 2021. Council’s decision was finalized on July 26, 2021.

In holding each other to the standards of behavior expected of City Councillors, Council is accountable to each other, and ultimately to the citizens of Red Deer. It is critical that complaints are fairly and thoroughly investigated, that the member who is the subject of the complaint has a full opportunity to present their position to Council, and that any sanctions issued are appropriate to the severity of the breach. Although there is no set amount of time within which a complaint should be finalized, each is handled as promptly as possible.