Ron Kore at home, 2017. VOICE FILE

The most honourable admit their errors, and express regret

OPINION

DAVE BURKET
Voice Publisher

I liked Ron Kore from the moment I met him, a bit over a decade ago, inside his Fonthill Sobeys franchise. Our introduction occurred in the produce department one afternoon, long before the store redesign, when there was a lot more natural light on offer. I can still picture the encounter. We talked about employee management. I favoured delegating; he favoured direct involvement.

In the 11 years since there been no shortage of evidence of Ron’s hands-on style. He’s a micro-manager, which is arguably why the Fonthill store impresses you immediately as not your average Sobeys. Unfortunately, it may also have led Ron into the false belief that the place would fall apart without him.

The store has plenty of talented managers, a number of whom I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with related to Voice business over the last few years. The store also has a large complement of staff—workers who have stuck with it over the last several weeks, putting themselves at risk on the front lines as essential service providers.

In short, there was no reason for Ron Kore to be present in the store while he was displaying symptoms of respiratory illness.

His decision to continue coming to work while he was ill can only be described as displaying reckless disregard for the safety of his employees and for the public—a public that is older than the Ontario average, and the most vulnerable to the serious complications of COVID-19.

It is, frankly, inexplicable.

Ron’s statement, issued Sunday afternoon after four days of silence last week, following the news that he had tested positive for COVID-19, and reportedly ignored requests from his staff not to come to work while sick, explained little.

Let’s be clear. No one—or no one reasonable, anyway—is accusing Ron of deliberately and knowingly coming to work while infected.

Let’s be clear. No one—or no one reasonable, anyway—is accusing Ron of deliberately and knowingly coming to work while infected.

The facts of the Voice’s initial story have not been disputed.

Kore was exhibiting symptoms of a respiratory illness as far back as March 23, when he attended a Town Council meeting, alarming many of those in the room.

Kore continued to work at Sobeys both before and after this date, a period during which employees say he exhibited symptoms.

The following council meeting, on April 6, was specifically set up to avoid the necessity for councillors to attend Town Hall in person. For reasons still unexplained, Kore insisted throughout the day on his being present physically in council chambers. When he was ultimately dissuaded from coming to Town Hall, he chose not to attend the meeting remotely, either. (Nor did Ron attend this Monday’s meeting. He has not given a reason for either absence. By his own admission, made in his statement on Sunday, he is not currently ill with COVID-19.)

The next day, Mayor Junkin sent Kore an email explaining his misgivings about Ron coming to Town Hall. On April 20, Kore received a positive test result for COVID-19.

Ron’s statement on Sunday came not just four days after the present story broke, but nearly three weeks after our first attempt to get an explanation from him on his efforts to attend the April 6 council meeting in person.

Ron’s statement, sounding unsurprisingly like something written by a lawyer, does little to contradict the facts as reported.

He does not deny exhibiting symptoms of illness. He does not deny that his staff observed his symptoms and recommended he stay home. He does not address why, if he was monitoring symptoms daily, he so clearly had them in the video recording of the March 23 council meeting. Given Public Health’s description of the course of Ron’s illness, it is virtually certain that he was contagious on April 6, and likely also on March 23.

Unfortunately, Ron also did not offer an apology, or any indication that he understood the recklessness of his conduct.

Unfortunately, Ron also did not offer an apology, or any indication that he understood the recklessness of his conduct.

In fact, he has accused the Town of being reckless in its response to him, but it’s hard to understand what this might mean. Both Junkin and CAO David Cribbs have barely mentioned Kore at all. Junkin’s appearance on the CBC was particularly respectful and far from accusatory.

Ron’s charitable efforts, especially the yearly Sobeys golf tournament, have long demonstrated his care for the community. He is notably involved in programs to help provide food for needy students in the DSBN. He has enjoyed a deservedly good reputation in town—so much so that he was declared Citizen of the Year in 2017.

While sitting and chatting with him in his dining room that year, I took the photo above. It was during this interview that Ron revealed that he was considering running for office. I encouraged him to do so. I thought it was a great idea.

In fact, I’ve taken some heat over the last couple years for appearing, to some eyes, to unduly favour Ron, to offer him more space in the paper than appropriate, to let his statements pass without suitable scrutiny. I disagree, of course, but perceptions are perceptions.

Ron’s positive qualities shouldn’t be forgotten, even amid recent events. I was sad to see some seem to do so over the past days, with social media commentary that was occasionally too severe—although with that said, someone who literally poses a potential threat to people’s lives during a global pandemic will understandably be the target of intense emotional reaction.

Our former reporter Sam Piccolo, who contributed some reporting to the Sobeys story, said much the same thing to me over the weekend. We agreed that the worst part of being a journalist is when you have to report sad stories about good people.

No journalist wants a story that makes good people like Ron look bad. But a journalist’s primary responsibility is to the facts, and the facts aren’t in Ron’s favour here. His careless actions over the past weeks should remind us all that even the best people experience errors in judgment. These are unprecedented times, and Ron is surely not the only one to find himself doing something unwise.

It’s also important that we collectively refrain from pretending to know what can’t be known. It’s true that Ron was in the room with Mike Ciolfi and two staff who later tested positive, and that Mike soon fell ill and died, but it’s impossible to say where or from whom Mike contracted the virus.

This sad, divisive episode should be a reminder for us that these days there is nothing wiser than erring on the side of caution. Stay home. Don’t immediately arrive at the most inflammatory conclusion. We still have a long way to go to get through this, and we will need each other’s help to do it.

 

 

6 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for saying many of the things I have been thinking and feeling about Ron and Mayor Junkin. It is a bit of a relief to see these thoughts laid out for our community to consider.

    Given this recent positive COVID-19 case, I feel that we are back at the beginning in terms of eradicating this disease from our community. I hope the local authorities will recognize this and help us to continue social distancing for a while yet.

  2. Ron is a great individual who was on the front line with his staff during a pandemic. It is terrible that he should be subjected to such ridicule before all of the facts during the past weeks are objectively on display. Guilty before proven innocent. Shame on all media‘s bias during this past week.

    • I guess you didn’t read the part where the public health consultant indicated that his most infectious period occurred while he continued working and was not in isolation and that was possibly for several weeks.

      So while he was on the front lines, he didn’t appear to care for his staff or customers as he recklessly continued to stay in public while obviously ill and in the end tested positive for covid.

      In this situation, your great individual showed questionable judgment. He did not have to be at Sobeys or Town council while clearly exhibiting respiratory symptoms. Shame on those who think he needs an apology. He should be apologizing to staff and customers for his recklessness.

      I am amazed at how many people in this town seem to ignore Covid symptoms and think they should be exempt from physical distancing and isolation because of the position and standing in the community.

  3. Sophie,
    With all due respect, if all accusations are true then he should accept the consequences however why does the media need to cast the first stone? Mr Mayor should also take some responsibility for not being proactive and then burning Ron at the stake.
    Thank you

    • The ultimate responsibility was with Ron Kore. The media became aware of the issues because his employees felt they had no recourse, apparently they were asking him to stay home but he refused. The Town asked him to participate remotely but he insisted attending personally. Can you just briefly put yourself in their place. How much stress was levied by his actions. The virus is deadly and as parents and family members the thought of being exposed and possibly bringing an illness home would be excruciating. This virus can leave lifelong consequences if infected.

      I am an immunosuppressed individual due to cancer, I have to depend on others to be responsible when it comes to food safety. I have to assume administrators and owners will do everything possible to maintain safety and set tan example.

      His judgement was flawed instead of relying on an abundance of caution now he should have applied that attitude when he first took ill. The virus has been widely advertised.

      Unfortunately Mr Kore is responsible for his own bad publicity. He mingled in public with a respiratory illness despite the magnitude of warnings and cautions. He posted an explanatory letter that showed no remorse no regrets. The self diagnostic tool is just that, it is a tool and not a substitute for a medical opinion. He easily could have sought medical help when he first became ill.

      The media attention in this exasperating virus outbreak was inevitable. His own personal exposure could have been kept privately early on. I just can’t fathom anyone being so obtuse considering the daily outpouring of covid information.

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