Gore Bay council not found in contravention of code of conduct, commissioner says

Tom Sasvari

The Recorder

GORE BAY—A report from the Integrity Commissioner of the Corporation of the Town of Gore Bay to town council has found that Mayor Ron Lane and five members of council did not contravene the town’s code of conduct. The investigation was conducted after a local business raised a complaint concerning emails between the mayor and a councillor in regards to the business being removed from the town website, and the subsequent removal of all businesses from the same site.

In his findings released to Gore Bay council at a meeting last week, Doug Los stated, “I conclude there has been no contravention of the code of conduct.”

Mr. Los explained, “this report results from an investigation of a complaint to the Integrity Commissioner of the Corporation of the Town of Gore Bay. The complaint alleges that the mayor and five councillors contravened bylaw number 2007-48, being a bylaw to establish a Code of Conduct for the Corporation of the Town of Gore Bay.” It was noted the report does not name individuals, which is in compliance with the confidentiality provisions of the Ontario Municipal Act.

“A member of the public made a written complaint to the Integrity Commissioner on October 13, 2011,” said Mr. Los, in providing background on the issue. He provided a total of 67 pages of documentation in total. “The alleged contravention is the sending and receiving of five specific email messages by the mayor and councillors.”

“The submission also makes reference to a complaint to the professional association of which the Integrity Commissioner of the Town of Gore Bay is a member,” continued Mr. Los. “The commissioner and the Town Council rightly recognized this as a conflict of interest for the commissioner. Accordingly, it was decided the “delegation” provisions of s.223.3(3) of the Municipal Act would be invoked. In these circumstances, the commissioner’s authority was delegated to me.”

Mr. Los continued, explaining the authority of the Integrity Commissioner is clearly specified in the statute and the bylaw. The commissioner’s mandate in this case is to make an inquiry about whether these email messages constitute a contravention of the applicable code of conduct.

“The complaint is against five out of six councillors (Lou Addison, Jack and Betsy Clark, Yvonne Bailey, and Wes Bentley) and the mayor,” said Mr. Los, in outlining the complaint. “The facts are specific. On Friday, September 23, 2011, at 8:59:45, the mayor initiated an email from an email address at his place of employment to five of the six town councillors,” explained Mr. Los. The sixth councillor did not have access to email. The mayor received responses from all five councillors (three separate messages plus one joint message) addressed to the email address at his place of employment on September 23 and 24.”

Mr. Los continued, “the member of the public who made the complaint has made contemporaneous complaints to the employers of the mayor and the one councillor. I cannot deal with those aspects of the complaint. They have been directed to the correct place by the complainant.”

“The complaint also alleges that this exchange of emails constitutes activity of a more serious nature,” said Mr. Los. “Again the member of the public has made complaints to the appropriate authorities who, to my knowledge, have not taken any action. It is beyond the scope of my authority to deal with these specific allegations.”

Mr. Los explained, “I conducted an investigation into the complaint. I reviewed the material provided by the person who made the complaint. I reviewed the material provided by the mayor and the five councillors. I interviewed each of the parties individually. I reviewed the relevant provisions of the Municipal Act and the Public Inquiries Act. I reviewed resolution numbers 12934, 12947, 12948 and 12949 (of the town),” and “I carefully studied the code of conduct for members of council of the Corporation of the Town of Gore Bay.

“In my view, the wording of the five email messages is direct and concise,” said Mr. Los. “The code of conduct outlines specific circumstances that may constitute a contravention. In my opinion, those circumstance do not relate to a matter such as this one. It is noteworthy that the town acted with transparency in providing the complainant with copies of the emails and other documentation when requested, from the outset, and before the complaint was made. The complainant would not have had access to the private emails if the town had chosen not to give the copies.”

“I am satisfied that the mayor and five councillors acted in good faith and intended to advance the best interest of their community,” he continued. “I realize the person who made the complaint has a different opinion than mine. I respect that.”

In his conclusion and finding that there has been no contravention, he said, “as of the date of the emails the town did not have any Internet protocols in place. I understand steps have been taken to establish guidelines and furthermore to create a Joint Business Advisory Committee to be comprised of councillors and representatives of local businesses. I think that is a good outcome.”

After removing all businesses from the town website, council did receive a letter signed by about 30 businesses in Gore Bay and surrounding area, relaying concerns with being taken off the site. The letter stated in part, “a letter was received by mail and an article published in the Recorder stating all business listings would be removed from the website prior to a review of the existing site. Reason stating for removal at this time is only that this has been offered as a courtesy only.”

“Removing all business listings (even if it temporary) is like cutting off your right arm,” the businesses’ letter states. “Businesses to any community are a vital part of the makeup. Without business there would be no need for essential services or non-essential services. The town is made up of businesses, the employees that work at these businesses and other residential taxpayers. Who would be your volunteer firefighters, run the museum or fish hatchery or minor hockey or run for town council, for that matter?”

The business letter also states in part, “prior to removing the listings, a council representative or economic development representative should have contacted our businesses to work on strategies for this website. Not remove and ask questions later. The town council should be reflecting on their choice of words when stating that have done our businesses a courtesy by uploading our listings. The same courtesy could be used from community sponsorship, donations and volunteer hours that our businesses commit to on an ongoing basis year after year through good or slow economic times.”

The letter also suggested that businesses and council could move forward by forming a small committee to review the needs of businesses in the community and what the current council expects from business over their municipal term in power.

“We need to establish a forum to work with businesses in town,” stated Mr. Lane at a council meeting in November. “We have a strategic plan that was developed and established eight years ago but we don’t have a BIA, or chamber business organization, to advise us on town issues, or advise from the business sector.”

“It is important that we move in this direction for 2012,” continued Mr. Lane. “Forming this committee should be on the agenda for our next council meeting to form a joint committee of council between representation of council and the business community (to form an advisory committee). Their main mandate could be to fulfill the items in the strategic plan, for instance putting together and designing a web page to be linked with Gore Bay, not be a stand alone site like our last one.”

After further discussion, council agreed the committee should be made up of two members of council and five business reps, with every part of the business sector represented. It was agreed the businesses should get together and nominate five representatives for the committee and forward them to council, with a deadline set for December 9.

On the issue of a Joint Business Advisory committee, Mayor Ron Lane said at a council meeting last week, “We had hoped five business people would come forward, and a letter was sent to all the businesses, in hope they would get together and nominate people to be on the committee.”

However, Mr. Lane pointed out only one business had been nominated. “I thought we might have a discussion here tonight as to how council would like to fill the positions on this committee.”

“How many came forward?” asked councillor Harry VanderWeerden, and he was told one business had been nominated.

As well, it was noted that one businessperson had nominated five others but the other businesses did not know they had been nominated, therefore these nominations were scrapped.

“We still need to fill all the positions,” said Mr. Lane. He said it has been suggested a meeting should be held with the business community early in January, where business people could nominate who they want on the committee.

“This (latter) option seems to make sense,” said councillor Wes Bentley. “The intention of the committee is that it would be driven by business,” he said, prior to council opting for the business meeting to take place early in the New Year.