July 30, 2014

Council rejects Code of Ethics report

By a vote of 3-2, Erin Town Council has rejected their Integrity Commissioner’s report into alleged breaches of the council Code of Ethics by Mayor Lou Maieron, and will impose no sanctions against him.

Commissioner Robert Williams presented his report on July 22 and recommended that Council suspend the mayor’s pay for one month. It was alleged that Maieron improperly handled conflicts of interest linked to his lawsuit against the Town and revealed confidential information in support of a court action against Councillor Deb Callaghan.

Maieron launched a passionate defence of his actions, saying he had done everything possible to avoid potential conflicts of interest and that the information he released was not private. Council would not give him permission to step aside as chairperson and still make comments as a council member, so he chaired the meeting.

A motion to receive the report and impose the pay suspension was supported by Councillors Barb Tocher, and Callaghan, the person who laid the complaints. Councillors Josie Wintersinger and John Brennan voted with the mayor to defeat the motion.

Before the vote, Maieron said he was considering if he should seek a judicial review of the matter and that there could be more Code of Ethics complaints.

“I think you’ll be quite busy,” he said to Williams. “Sorry, to taxpayers. Being a good Christian, I’ve turned both cheeks, there’s no more cheeks to turn. What’s good for the gander is good for the goose, and we’re going to see how much fun the Code of Conduct is when other people want to pursue this matter. I don’t think it helps council. I don’t think it helps the taxpayer.”

Before the vote, other councillors made no comments. Outside the meeting, Brennan said it is unfortunate that the Code is being used as a “stick”, and that the current meeting was “punishment enough”. He is “rethinking” the Code, but is not prepared to call for its abolition. He voted against penalizing Maieron in the only previous Code case, eight months ago, and couldn’t see the point of a penalty so late in the council term.

Later, Brennan said council might have to vote again on this matter. He thinks there should have been two motions, one to receive the report and a second on whether to impose a penalty, giving members the option of voting differently on each question.

Wintersinger launched last year’s case and succeeded on three out of five complaints, resulting in a 30-day pay suspension for the mayor. This time, she put forward the motion to penalize the mayor, but then changed her mind and decided it was not justified.

“I am not a vengeful person,” she said. “I listened to the whole story and I had some compassion for the situation he had been put into.”

Wintersinger and Brennan are currently seeking re-election to Town Council, but Tocher and Callaghan are not. Maieron has not announced his intentions, while Tocher is running for County Council.

The allegations by Callaghan, who herself is a defendant in a separate conflict of interest court case, were outlined in last week’s Advocate. She said Maieron should not have revealed, in an affidavit for her case, the topic of a closed council session that included education on conflict of interest issues. Maieron argued that she had already revealed the topic in her own affidavit.

Williams backed Callaghan’s claim that the mayor should not have revealed a complaint letter against her from 2013. That complaint never became a Code of Conduct case because the alleged improper voting on matters involving her husband, the fire chief, happened before the Code was enacted, and were outside council’s authority.

The letter from a resident was originally sent to former CAO Frank Miele, who notified Callaghan but never presented the letter to council. Williams said the letter was covered by the Privacy Act, but Maieron said he got the letter from the resident and that it has no special protection.

Callaghan also said the mayor should have declared a conflict of interest on initial discussions about whether the Town might assume ownership of a stormwater pond at the Madison Lake subdivision in Ospringe,

The mayor tried to stop a last-minute delegation about the Ospringe pond from appearing last February, and was in the chair at a later meeting when a staff report was requested. He said he declared a conflict as soon as he suspected that the issue could have policy implications for his property. Williams said he should have declared sooner, and that after declaring, he should not have participated in budget talks or made enquiries about the Town’s related legal costs.

“I don’t see how I could have abided more to the Code of Conduct than to exclude myself from any discussion,” he said. “Yes, I asked for a report, but when the report came in I didn’t make any decisions. I think I was doing my duty just to ask for the report.”

The mayor has launched a lawsuit against developers of a different subdivision, next to his own land, which names the Town because of issues with an easement on a buffer block of land intended to deal with stormwater runoff. He said nearby ponds are on the developer’s land, that they are not the subject of the lawsuit and that he seeks no money from the Town.

“There is no lawsuit against the Town or the developer on stormwater ponds, or on outstanding taxes versus the Town,” he said. “We brought the Town into the suit to provide notice.”

He is seeking $75,000 in damages from the developer and related parties, and reimbursement of about $39,000 in taxes he paid to avoid a forced sale of the property. He seeks full ownership of that land as provided by the Ontario Municipal Board, without the easement reserved by the developer.

At the council meeting, Maieron released an October 2013 email from his lawyer Kevin Sherkin to the Town’s lawyer, to clarify that “we are seeking no funds from your client [the Town] other than potentially putting them on notice”. 

Sherkin said that since the mayor wants changes to the easement, it could affect the Town’s rights, and so the Town should have a voice in the matter. “If your client [the Town] wants to carve out a piece out where the easement exists and acquire it from my client at fair market value, I think it would resolve matters,” said Sherkin.