Meeting features false statements, apparent violation of Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, grant money rejected, an angry Wink, and pop-up patios
During its June 15 meeting, Pelham Town Council voted to suspend Mayor Marvin Junkin’s salary for 45 days while additionally reprimanding him over an Integrity Commissioner investigation into complaints brought forward by Councillor Ron Kore earlier this year.
In late 2019, embattled cannabis producer CannTrust indicated to Junkin that it might be willing to donate $25,000 toward revitalization of the Fonthill Bandshell. Instead of bringing the offer to council in open session—which, in fact, he was not required to do—Junkin informally polled council members in person and by email to gauge their interest in accepting a donation from a company that had become a local pariah. All councillors told Junkin that accepting the offer was a bad idea—despite the fact that the offer was not being made to the Town, but to a private organization, the Bandshell Committee, over which council has no authority.
Kore subsequently accused Junkin of attempting to broker a “back-room deal,” initially taking his complaint to the Voice, but without being willing to proceed with it. He then opted to file formal complaints with both the Town’s independent Integrity Commissioner, and with the Ontario Ombudsman’s office.
As reported at length in last week’s issue, in an investigation costing Pelham taxpayers just over $18,000, the Integrity Commissioner found that Junkin had made a number of technical violations of the Town’s Code of Conduct. However, the commissioner concluded that, “it is not our view that the Mayor did so for nefarious purposes; rather, we accept that the Mayor likely intended to avoid the potential for public discourse over a potential donation which may never materialize.”
The commissioner recommended that Junkin receive a reprimand as punishment.
Yet in what has become an ongoing pattern of rejecting the advice of specialists, Councillors Bob Hildebrandt, Lisa Haun, John Wink, and Marianne Stewart voted to dock Junkin’s pay for 45 days on top of the reprimand.
Before discussion over punishment began, Kore announced that due to an unstated conflict of interest, he would not participate in debate over the consequences of investigations that he himself had caused to occur, and disconnected from the video conference.
Yet a moment later, Councillor Bob Hildebrandt read aloud a statement written by Kore, on Kore’s behalf.
This appeared to directly violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, which forbids a council member from taking part in discussing a topic about which they have declared a conflict.
Such a council member “shall not attempt in any way whether before, during or after the meeting to influence the voting” on the issue being debated.
Either no councillor noticed that Kore and Hildebrandt were apparently violating the Act, or didn’t care.
When asked later in the week whether Hildebrandt’s reading of Kore’s statement was permissible, CAO David Cribbs told the Voice that his answering the question, “would constitute provision of legal advice, which I can only provide to the Corporation of the Town of Pelham.”
Kore did not reply to a Voice request to describe what his conflict of interest was. Hildebrandt did not reply when asked why he agreed to read Kore’s statement in his absence.
The Mayor also exited the video conference before debate over his fate got underway, but not before letting council know how he felt.
“I’m 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 and the Ombudsman pass judgment on what can only be described by any stretch of the imagination as frivolous complaints….Quite frankly, I’ve had enough. I’m not going to participate in any more discussions. I’m now going to bid council, and the senior staff that is left, goodnight.”
The added 45-day salary suspension was Haun’s idea, and she defended her decision to lay the extra punishment on Junkin by admonishing the Mayor for leaving the meeting early.
“He’s opted to leave the meeting and doesn’t seem to have any apologies to make whatsoever,” she said. “Had I had the opportunity with him to discuss this, it may have had a different outcome. But clearly, he has no remorse and no apologies to make.”
“I was hoping there would be a more apologetic and conciliatory position taken by the Mayor,” he said.
Junkin did apologize—to the public—in last week’s Voice for any oversights, saying he should not have conducted an informal poll of councillors regarding Cann Trust’s offer.
During the debate, Haun seemed to suggest that the $18,430 investigation bill was due in part to Junkin not being qualified or willing to participate in mediation. In fact, mediation was offered to both sides and accepted by Junkin.
“The Mayor whole-heartedly supports the concept of mediation and looks forward to a time and date for this to occur,” read an email sent by a Town administrative assistant to the Integrity Commissioner on March 9.
Kore rejected mediation. He has not responded to Voice requests to explain why.
Haun also falsely asserted that parties to mediation must first “admit” wrongdoing.
“As far as mediation, in order to have mediation, you have to have two parties, that, one of them has to admit, or both really have to have a compromise, they have to admit there’s some wrongdoing,” said Haun.
Mixing the present with the past, Haun continued, “In this case, the Mayor very clearly doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong, so mediation really didn’t seem like it would in [sic] anything that would have ever been feasible. So, naturally then, instead of mediation, it goes to an investigation.”
Haun did not respond when asked over the weekend on what basis she made her assertion that a prerequisite for mediation was an admission of wrongdoing.
False assertion about council action
In another stumble, Councillor Marianne Stewart falsely claimed that the Mayor had violated an earlier decision of council, which she implied in part led her to agree with Haun’s proposed 45-day pay cut for Junkin.
“Last year, council had made a decision that we would not accept any funding from cannabis companies, at least until such time as they proved themselves to be good corporate citizens,” asserted Stewart during the debate.
In fact, council has made no such decision, as acknowledged later last week by Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato.
“We have checked various meetings and can confirm that we are not able to find any formal decision or agreement (staff direction) or resolution to this effect,” Bozzato told the Voice.
Asked over the weekend to explain her error, Stewart told the paper that she “may have slightly misspoken,” but then went on to double-down, repeating essentially the same statement and adding the town’s residents and implied bribery to the mix.
“The sentiment of both the constituents and council has been clear,” said Stewart. “Until such time as the cannabis facilities are no longer a detriment to our community, we as council cannot allow them to buy their way into our good graces…”
Stewart did not respond when asked how this materially differed from her original assertion, and whether she was speaking for all of council or just herself.
As of press time, the results of a Voice opinion poll, posted last Saturday on the newspaper’s website and on Facebook, showed some 84% of 112 respondents disagreeing with Stewart’s assessment of public opinion, as they answered “Yes” to the statement, “If offered, should the Fonthill Bandshell Committee accept donations from local cannabis producers to help cover the costs of the Committee’s improvements to the Bandshell?”
In any event, the Bandshell Committee, being an independent, volunteer-run community group, is not a Town entity. It is not subject to council oversight regarding who it accepts donations from, a point that the Ombudsman made in his report when chiding council as a whole for improperly seeking to instruct the Bandshell Committee on the CannTrust donation that never materialized. In comments to the Voice last week, Committee Chair Gayle Baltjes said that the group was open to accepting donations from all comers.
Council tosses grant, no paving for Bauer trail
In another shoot-down of expert opinion, council voted to punt away a $75,000 provincial grant that would have covered most of the cost to pave a kilometre of the Steve Bauer Trail south of Port Robinson Road. Hildebrandt, Kore and Stewart voted against taking the free cash, going against the recommendation of their own Pelham Active Transportation Committee (PATC).
Junkin, Wink and Haun voted in favour of the trail paving, but because the motion was tied, under procedural rules with one council seat vacant, it was defeated.
Wink was visibly angered.
“Why do we establish committees in this town if we don’t listen to their recommendations?” he asked. “[The] Pelham Active Transportation Committee is…all about cycling, they’re all
about walking, they’re all about healthy living. They’ve made a recommendation to this council, and we’re ignoring what they’re presenting to us. If we keep on ignoring committees and what they’re trying to do for our town, why the heck do we have committees in the first place? I’m sorry, I find this very, very demoralizing.”
While the PATC report stated that if council didn’t proceed with the Bauer Trail grant then the $75,000 would be lost, the CAO said he would explore options. He then lambasted the three no-voting councillors for shutting down an accessibility upgrade for the disabled, while damaging Pelham’s reputation in terms of grant applications from higher levels of government.
“We applied for this grant way before I was employed here,” Cribbs said. “The Town has a fairly extensive and quite attractive trail system, and none of it is accessible. None. The [Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act] legislation requires us to be making some efforts in that regard, and I don’t know how I would answer how we are in respect to recreation right now. It is extremely damaging to the Town of Pelham’s brand … it damages enormously our capacity to get future grants. It just does. We shouldn’t be applying. I would echo a number of Councillor Wink’s comments, where we choose to create advisory committees, and where those advisory committees devote a lot of time to a specific item and become experts in it, and then make a strong recommendation, the anticipation is, that [council will agree with the recommendation].
The portion of the trail under discussion, named after Pelham native and former Tour de France cyclist Steve Bauer, will remain dirt and gravel for the foreseeable future.
Council approved the temporary waiving of certain parking space requirements for restaurants to allow “pop-up” parking lot patios— up to six parking spaces may be used for this purpose during the pandemic.
Currently, the Town has a Sidewalk Encroachment policy allowing restaurants to apply to the Town for permission to encroach on municipal sidewalks for outdoor patio use subject to meeting the policy requirements related to proof of insurance, provincial licensing requirements, pedestrian accessibility requirements, urban design zoning, and sign and building code requirements. Street parking will not be considered for these patios as the recommendation to waive parking spaces is for private parking lots only.
Approval of sidewalk patios under the Sidewalk Encroachment policy is managed through the Clerk’s office. Pop-up parking lot patios on private property are subject to meeting Public Health and provincial licensing requirements related to food service and serving of alcohol.
Taking a break, council next meets again on July 13.
With files by Dave Burket and John Chick.
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