July 23, 2014

Mayor again ruled in violation of Code of Ethics

As published in The Erin Advocate

Erin’s Integrity Commissioner has ruled that Mayor Lou Maieron violated several sections of council’s Code of Ethics, including improper handling of conflicts of interest linked to his lawsuit against the Town and improperly revealing confidential information in support of a court action against Councillor Deb Callaghan.

In a report to Town Council to be discussed Tuesday, Robert Williams upholds seven Code allegations made against the mayor by Councillor Callaghan, and recommends Council impose a one-month suspension of pay. He suggests that Maieron may also have violated both the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

Since he is suing the Town on an issue that involves stormwater issues, Williams said Maieron should not have participated in discussion of the Town’s handling of another stormwater dispute, concerning the pond at Madison Lake subdivision in Ospringe. The commissioner said he “failed to clearly distinguish his personal interests and the public interest.”

After investigating another allegation, Williams said the mayor should not have been involved in the budget discussion of increased legal costs, since it included the Town defending itself against his lawsuit.

The mayor’s disregard for rules about confidential information is “unacceptable”, said Williams, finding him in violation on three related allegations. The full report is available in the first section of the council agenda for July 22, at www.erin.ca.

Council gave the mayor a 30-day pay suspension last December after previous Integrity Commissioner John Craig found him in violation of the Code for his treatment of staff, revealing confidential information and leaving a meeting in progress. Code of Conduct investigations are entirely separate from the court system, with no public proceedings or examination of witnesses.

Councillor Callaghan is currently defending herself in a Conflict of Interest Act court case initiated by Erin resident Mark Adamiak, who alleges she failed to declare a conflict, and improperly voted on staff pay and other issues that affected her husband, the fire chief. That case will be heard in September, with Callaghan saying any errors on her part were inadvertent.

At Adamiak’s request, the mayor filed an affidavit with the court. He referred to a 2013 Code of Conduct complaint against Callaghan that had never been made public. Code complaints remain confidential until they are investigated and council gets a report. That complaint did not proceed, partly because the alleged voting on conflict of interest matters happened before the Code was enacted.

Maieron provided the court with a copy of the complaint letter, written by Pauline Follett to then CAO Frank Miele. His affidavit says the letter “prompted” a closed council meeting – an education session with a lawyer, who he said, “enlightened Councillor Callaghan on the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.”

The specific complaint was not addressed by the lawyer, but it was improper for the mayor to reveal the topic of that closed session and release the letter, said Williams. In his affidavit, Maieron said he believed he was “required by law” to provide the information. He took guidance from the Municipal Act in the interests of “accountability and transparency”, saying the Act made it “incumbent on me to provide the missing facts which would not be in Mr. Adamiak’s knowledge.”

Williams said the Municipal Act “does not give the Head of Council the power to unilaterally override the Town’s procedural by-law or its Code of Ethics.” Even though the letter had been shared with some residents of Erin, Williams believes it is “personal information”, the release of which is prohibited under the Privacy Act.

“The letter is not a public document and should not have been used by Mr. Maieron as if it were,” he said. While admitting it is not his job to address possible violations of provincial law, “the legality of Mr. Maieron’s use of Mrs. Follett’s letter is questionable.”

Williams also noted that responsibility for the process of potentially releasing private information is assigned to Town staff, not elected officials. Therefore, he upheld Callaghan’s allegation that the mayor violated the Code of Ethics by interfering in an area of staff responsibility.

Compared to the allegations related to the mayor’s lawsuit, the ones involving confidential information are “much more serious, since he chose in his sworn affidavit to divulge information about in-camera Council business and to include correspondence with a senior Town official that had never been shared with Council, let alone the public,” said Williams.

The mayor’s suit against the Town seeks $75,000 in damages and repayment of about $39,000 in taxes he paid to avoid a forced sale of a buffer block of property between his fish farm and a subdivision. He seeks full ownership of that land as provided by the Ontario Municipal Board, without the easement reserved by the developer on behalf of the Town to deal with potential subdivision stormwater problems.

Although the mayor has no direct financial interest in the Madison Lake pond dispute, he eventually declared a conflict of interest in May after participating in council discussions of the matter. Williams said it should not have taken him almost three months to identify this potential conflict.

“Because Mr. Maieron’s business is based in part on the role the Town plays in water management systems, he has an ‘interest’ in whatever decision Council might make,” said Williams, ruling there had been a Code violation.

Another allegation says it was not proper for the mayor to request explanations of Town payments to a law firm advising the Town on the Madison Lake issue. He made seven such requests before declaring a conflict of interest on the matter, and three requests after he declared. Williams ruled that another Code violation.

In April this year, a report was coming to council about legal expenses over the last two terms of council. The mayor properly declared a conflict of interest at the start of the meeting. However when it was time to receive the report he remained as presiding officer, which Williams said “is an unambiguous breach of Section 5(1) of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.”

The mayor said any error was due to “inadvertence”, that it was a report for information only with no discussion, and that there was confusion over procedure. He thought he needed to remain at the table to maintain a quorum of three members, while the rules state that two is a quorum when members have to step away due to conflict of interest. Williams rejected his explanations and again found him in violation of the Code.