Hamilton councillor can vote on police budget even though her son is an officer: integrity commissioner

Coun. Esther Pauls was reprimanded last year for not declaring a conflict of interest, but Hamilton's new integrity commissioner says that decision wasn't correct.

Coun. Esther Pauls was docked pay last year for not declaring a conflict of interest

A woman at a desk
Esther Pauls represents Ward 7 and is a member of the Hamilton Police Service Board. (Samantha Craggs/CBC)

Hamilton's new integrity commissioner has decided Coun. Esther Pauls, whose son is a senior police officer, is allowed to vote on the police budget.

The previous integrity commissioner had determined the opposite last year — that there was a conflict of interest — and docked Pauls' pay by 15 consecutive days for "vociferously" endorsing and voting on the 2023 police budget. 

But the current integrity commissioner David Boghosian said in a letter dated Feb. 6 that after reviewing last year's decision at Pauls' request, he found it was based on "an incomplete review of the available facts and data and based on certain unfounded assumptions." 

Pauls released the letter Tuesday, hours before a special police service board meeting. Board members will consider council's request to reduce the proposed $214.8 million budget, representing a 8.41 per cent increase over 2023. 

"I am so happy and feel exonerated to receive this well-researched and thorough ruling that reverts to common sense," Pauls said in a statement. 

"Do you know how difficult it has been to basically be muzzled and not be able to genuinely participate and contribute to debate at the Police Service Board?"

Pauls' son John Pauls is a Hamilton police inspector and made close to $200,000 in 2022. In the fall of that year, Pauls was advised by integrity commissioner staff that as a police board member, she had a conflict of interest and needed to refrain from participating in budget debates and votes. 

However, she voted in favour of increasing the police budget by 6.71 per cent. 

Pauls' interest 'insignificant': commissioner

Boghosian was appointed as integrity commissioner last November and said after speaking with police Chief Frank Bergen and reviewing collective agreements, he found Pauls' son's salary wouldn't be impacted by budget changes, unless the budget is being cut. 

The salaries of the vast majority of police officers, including Pauls' son, are determined in collective agreements that are legally binding, Boghosian said in his letter. 

Also, Pauls doesn't receive "any of her son's remuneration," Boghosian said. "For that reason, her interest is remote and insignificant." 

He also reviewed police budgets passed over the last 20 years and found they've never resulted in layoffs of any senior employees or put their jobs at risk. 

"There is no reason to believe that this will change in the foreseeable future," he said. 

He advised Pauls should declare a conflict or consult further with the integrity commissioner if she's voting on a reduced police budget compared to the previous year. 

Coun. Cameron Kroetsch, also a police board member, has been supportive of police budget reductions, and is one of two board members who made suggestions for ways to cut the budget, including staffing changes. Those suggestions will be discussed Tuesday.

Kroetsch filed the original integrity commissioner complaint against Pauls because she would not make public the advice she was receiving, which was to declare a conflict of interest. 

While Kroetsch is glad Pauls is being transparent by releasing the integrity commissioner's letter, he told CBC Hamilton the timing to do so just before Tuesday's budget meeting  is "strategic" so she can participate in discussions. 

Pauls received the letter about a week ago, and took a few days to read and reflect upon it as well as have staff write a statement, said Sam Minniti, her chief adviser. She did the same with the previous integrity commissioner's report, Minniti said. 


Samantha Beattie is a reporter for CBC Hamilton. She has also worked for CBC Toronto and as a Senior Reporter at HuffPost Canada. Before that, she dived into local politics as a Toronto Star reporter covering city hall.