Springwater mayor breaks silence, council docks pay
By Kate Harries Springwater News
For the first time in 16 months, Springwater’s mayor has broken his silence and provided an account of what happened at the county warden’s charity golf tournament at Vespra Hills on June 26 2019 that led to his being charged with impaired and dangerous driving.
The criminal charges were withdrawn when he pleaded guilty on July 31 2020 to an offence under the Highway Traffic Act of driving without due care, attention or consideration for other persons using the highway.
“There have been no findings I was intoxicated or driving dangerously,” Mayor Don Allen told council on October 21 2020, reading out a 10-minute statement in which he provided a description of events in what he said was an “agreed statement of facts” accepted by the court.
Council saw matters differently and suspended Allen’s pay and remuneration for three months, with Councillors Perry Ritchie, Jack Hanna, George Cabral and Anita Moore voting in favour, Deputy Mayor Jennifer Coughlin and Councillor Wanda Maw-Chapman against and Allen not voting.
Allen said the consumption of two alcoholic drinks, fatigue from a long hot day on the golf course, and symptoms resulting from a double knee replacement and his multiple sclerosis condition caused him “objectively speaking to drive without due care and attention.”
He described himself as “politely” cooperating, “patiently” waiting and “not belligerent,” with no golf club staff in danger – contrary to earlier reports.
He added: “I acknowledged my mistake with respect to this and justice has been served.”
In a report received at the October 21 meeting, the township’s former Integrity Commissioner, Principles Integrity, takes note of the actions in court July 31, when Allen was sentenced to a $1,000 fine, a four-month licence suspension, and a 12-month probation prohibiting him from driving with any alcohol.
Principles Integrity concluded: “In our view, the mayor has acknowledged responsibility for his conduct and therefore, no further sanction is warranted.”
However, the court was dealing with a traffic offence, not whether Allen had violated the township code of conduct, a matter that Principles Integrity was required to investigate after separate complaints were filed by Cabral, Hanna and Moore.
Asked to clarify, Janice Atwood-Petkovski of Principles Integrity provided something short of an explanation. “What we typically bring forward is a findings report,” she told council. “In this particular case we’re bringing a recommendation report.” She deflected further questions by repeating, “the report speaks for itself,” while her partner Jeff Abrams remained mute.
Councillors were left to parse the report for indications. Hanna and Moore felt that it showed there had been violations of the code of conduct. Cabral argued that the report failed to deal with the issue.
It was an astounding meeting that saw:
-Principles Integrity repeatedly refuse to answer any substantive questions from council.
-Presentation of rival agreed statements of facts, one in the Principles Integrity report, one read out by Allen, both reportedly accepted by the court on July 31.
-Intervention by Allen in discussion of a matter in which he had a pecuniary interest – although he did refrain from voting.
-The chair bouncing like a hot potato from Allen to Coughlin to Moore as Coughlin manoeuvered to limit future political fallout.
During the debate (which can be viewed here from 22:43 to 1:32:45) the councillors who filed the complaints spoke of their reluctance to take action, but explained they felt they had no choice, or they would have been complicit in the mayor’s behaviour. The complaints were filed July 5 2019, before criminal charges were laid in August 2019.
Moore recounted how she had fielded numerous questions from residents in the intervening months, to all of which she had to reply, “I don’t know” and that no information had been provided to her in private or in public.
She read out two of the statements she received from Ward 4 residents. One stated: “My 19-year-old son was working at Vespra Hills Golf Club and was witness to the mayor’s bad behaviour. I have to say that I voted for Mayor Allen and I’ve regretted it since that day. Not only did the mayor not apologize for being belligerent but he not once reached out to the young people who he almost hurt.”
Cabral noted that the agreed statement of facts is part of a plea bargaining process that’s undertaken to cut down on court time and the acknowledgment Allen made was to the court, “it was certainly not to residents of Springwater Township, certainly not to council, certainly not to staff.”
Cabral said the matter only became public through the media, in August, but “today’s the date he’s come forward to try and tell everybody what happened. Maybe he could have just made a statement last fall.”
He said he was disturbed by a comment Allen made to the Barrie Advance when the news surfaced in August 2020, dismissing the matter as a “non-event.” “That doesn’t sound to me like anybody who’s taking responsibility for their actions,” Cabral said.
It’s not as if Allen wasn’t asked. At the January 15 2020 meeting of council, Ritchie put the question to him in public. “Mayor Allen,” he said, “I would like you to give this council an update as to the charges that were laid against you last year.”
Coughlin intervened to say that “this is an identifiable and personal item.” And therefore not to be discussed. “I just want to know what’s going on, that’s all I’m asking, Mayor Allen,” Ritchie said at the January meeting. “You can come and talk to me, then,” Allen said, “Personally.”
The problem is that this was not a personal matter. When the head of council faced criminal charges, Ritchie and other members of council had every right to seek answers, and the public had the right to hear them.
But there was silence. Silence even after the matter was dealt with in court in July. Silence after it was revealed in the media in August. Silence until last Wednesday.
This will not end the matter. Coughlin appealed to council to seek legal advice before docking the mayor’s pay, but was ignored.
Allen produced an opinion from the township’s new Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze, to the effect that council did not have the power to sanction him if there was not a finding that he had violated the code of conduct.
Coughlin turned to the two Principles Integrity partners and asked them twice whether Allen had violated the code. They again refused to answer. “The report is a public report, it speaks for itself,” Atwood-Petkovski repeated.
Cabral commented that the Integrity Commissioner can make recommendations but the final determination rests with council, and so the vote went.
In his opening statement, Allen noted that “this incident has contributed to the relationship strain that currently exists within council” and expressed the hope that council members establish a good working relationship for the remainder of their term.
That depends. Complaints about information not being shared, decisions taken without input from council, and council even being excluded from the process have surfaced from time to time during this term and are probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of frustrations experienced by councillors. It depends on Allen forging a new path of inclusion in his dealings with council.