Editor’s note: Over the weekend, the Voice reached out to Pelham Town Council, Pelham CAO David Cribbs, and Pelham Mayor Marvin Junkin for comment regarding the findings of two recently concluded investigations into fundraising efforts by the Mayor and council related to the Fonthill Bandshell Committee’s project to renovate the Bandshell in Peace Park. Cribbs’ comments are included in this article about the investigations. No Town Councillor responded. The remarks that follow are the Mayor’s.
“Good morning Mr. Mayor. The next installment on my property tax bill is at the end of June and I will not be able to pay it at this time as I am still not back to full time work. As you noted, I will call the Town Clerk to discuss my situation.”
The above is a portion of an email I received from a Pelham resident last Monday. I can’t begin to imagine what his reaction will be when he reads this week’s paper and discovers how this council has misspent $18,430 of the taxpayers’ money.
I am embarrassed to be connected to a council, much less head of a council, which has paid this amount of money to have the Integrity Commissioner pass judgment on what can only be described, by any stretch of the imagination, as frivolous complaints.
It is beyond belief that in this time of such a devastating pandemic, when unemployment has skyrocketed, and many taxpayers are facing the loss of their businesses and/or their homes, that this council has been forced to deal with such trivial accusations.
For my part in this, which occurred either because of my poor communication skills, or my lack of complete knowledge of the Municipal Act, I apologize to the residents of the town.
One of the complaints which I was found guilty of was actively soliciting funds for a community project. Never in my wildest dreams did I envision anyone—much less a councillor—to take offence to my handing out a donation page, drawn up by the Bandshell committee, to area businesses, to make them aware of this project, and the opportunity to contribute to it, either by a monetary donation, or perhaps through providing labour.
By the Bandshell’s own estimate, my efforts brought in somewhere between $15,000 to $20,000 dollars. This is money that did not have to come from the Town treasury.
I refuse to apologize for this effort, and believe that this helped to build community spirit within the town. Obviously, next time I will adapt to the rules.
Another complaint was my calling Councillor Kore’s allegation of me trying to orchestrate a “back room deal” for a vague offer of a donation from CannTrust the “height of silliness.” Mr. Kore thought that this phrase amounted to disparagement against his character, so asked the Commissioner to rule on this.
Not surprisingly, the Commissioner found no fault with this phrase. Whew, society can now rest easy!
The final complaint—and this is the most disheartening for me— was the allegation that I was trying to hide a donation that was vaguely offered by a cannabis company from the public view. Here is the way the event unfolded.
In November, during a meeting between CannTrust officials, senior Town staff, and myself, the CEO of CannTrust mentioned the donation page that he had received from me, a month or two earlier. He wondered how the project was progressing and suggested that CannTrust might be interested in making a contribution to this project, sometime in the future.
Right then and there, I should have handed him the contact information for the Bandshell fundraising team, but I did not.
I informed the Bandshell Committee that an anonymous donor might step forward and make a donation on the last big item, the new lights.
On January 13, the Bandshell Committee was making a final report to council, in open session. Ten days prior to this meeting, the chairperson asked me how she should handle this anonymous donation. I had told her it was just mentioned once, and I had not heard any more from the possible donor. I told her I had to check with council and I would get back to her.
Shortly thereafter, I was at the community centre, opening the Silver Stick tournament. Also in attendance were Councillors Wink, Ciolfi, and Hildebrandt. I told them that CannTrust might be willing to donate $25,000, the cost of lights, to the Bandshell project, and did they think we should accept it or not, considering how many residents in the Town did not feel that CannTrust was being a good corporate citizen at the time.
Because this donation had never been on any council agenda, and because it was such a vague offer to begin with, I did not think that this would be classified council business. I was wrong.
When I arrived home later that evening, I emailed councillors Kore, Stewart and Haun asking them this same question. If offered, would you be in favour of accepting a donation of up to $25,000 from CannTrust.
Council’s decision was unanimous—no one thought we should accept the money, even if it was offered. I then proceeded to tell the Bandshell chairperson not to mention this possible donation in her report because council did not want to accept any money from CannTrust at that time. It must be remembered that if councillors had been in favour of accepting any money offered by CannTrust, it would have been made public the night of the Bandshell’s report.
In hindsight, I should never have conducted the poll of councillors. I did so because I thought they should be kept informed of any/all sizeable donations by a cannabis company. I also should have gone to the Town Clerk for advice as to my conducting this poll, as she knew this council, and the rules, perhaps a little bit better than our CAO.
Either way, I made the final call, it was a mistake, and I apologize to you, the citizens, for my carelessness.
Two final remarks:
The Ombudsman’s report cleared me of any wrongdoing.
The Integrity Commissioner, while finding that I had breached codes of conduct, found that it was evident that my actions were not nefarious, and no personal gain was sought.
I will leave it to you, the residents, to draw your conclusions as to whether you got your $18,430-worth. ◆