LETTER: Oro-Medonte council ‘undermining’ accountability
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From OrilliaMatters, July 19, 2022
A Letter to the Editor
The following letter is in response to recent Oro-Medonte council controversies.
Some members of council in Oro-Medonte would like this fiasco to just go away, but it shouldn’t. All ratepayers need to know what happened and they need to tell council it must never happen again. We need transparency and accountability.
This isn’t just about maintaining the truth. It is about the integrity of our municipal government, and about seeing that checks and balances that include the role of Integrity Commissioners are respected, not neutralized.
In an age when misinformation can be easily spread, let’s start with some facts.
A year ago, the records show that an Oro-Medonte councillor’s personal email was used to gain access to a members’ only virtual Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the Horseshoe Valley Property Owners Association (HVPOA). It was identified as a closed meeting for members in good standing only. The access link for the on-line meeting was only provided to members in good standing.
Following the AGM, the Zoom records were reviewed to ensure the integrity of the on-line voting process. It was discovered that three people attended the closed meeting who were not members in good standing. Research found that one of the unwelcome participants used an Oro-Medonte councillor’s personal email to enter the meeting, vote to reject the financial statement and make unjustified accusations about the integrity of the question-and-answer process during the meeting.
After this discovery the HVPOA contacted the Integrity Commissioner retained by Oro-Medonte and filed a formal complaint. An investigation ensued into the alleged significant breaches of Council’s Code of Conduct. For the first time ever, this Integrity Commissioner had to subpoena a councillor to uncover most of the truth.
In May 2021, the Integrity Commissioner released a report of his findings and made recommendations. He found that the councillor had obstructed the Integrity Commissioner’s investigation and had breached the Code of Conduct.
When the Integrity Commissioner presented his findings to council, both he and the HVPOA were attacked by a group of councillors. In politics such attacks are used to distract and divert – take people’s attention away from the facts and wrongfully blame the victims. It is a classic but a very unbecoming move.
Next, like a well-orchestrated theatre play, a group of councillors conducted a court-like review of the evidence. Here is another important fact to remember: they did not exonerate the councillor. The vote to follow the Integrity Commissioner’s recommendations and sanction the councillor was tied 3:3. They instead voted to receive the report and then voted to fire the Integrity Commissioner. Most informed observers firmly believe this group of Oro-Medonte councillors shot the messenger because they didn’t like the message.
Regrettably, firing the Integrity Commissioner neutralizes one of the few checks and balances that are built into our system of municipal government. An Integrity Commissioner is supposed to be independent. Tough to be independent if you might end up being fired for doing your work.
Oro-Medonte council set a very dangerous precedent with this move. An Integrity Commissioner could be drawn into the compromising world of hope of advantage – hope for future work, if they provide a glossed-over sugar-coated report. Thankfully, Integrity Commissioners are retained because they have attained a position in life where their credibility, their reputation and their character are unimpeachable.
A few weeks after firing the Integrity Commissioner, the majority of council voted to pay the councillor’s legal fees, $8,272, from their discretionary funds. Regardless of how the financial records would appear, the result was still the same. Taxpayers ended up paying the councillor’s legal bill. To many, this outcome is repugnant.
On July 6, 2022, the new Integrity Commissioner reported that council had the power to fire the first Integrity Commissioner and pay the legal fees of this councillor. He did not judge whether the original decision was right or wrong. Contrary to what some want you to believe, his report, in no way vindicated the councillor for obstructing the earlier investigation or for breaching the code of conduct.
So, the fundamental problem remains when, most of the council decided to shoot the messenger, they undermined a system that was put in place to help ensure that council would be accountable. Such a decision effectively neutralizes the Integrity Commissioner’s role. It is a disturbing decision that further erodes an already failing trust that the public has in municipal government.
To begin rebuilding trust in our municipal government, I would like to add my voice to the gathering chorus calling for the province to overhaul this system. The Integrity Commissioners should be independent and not hired by the very people they are supposed to investigate.
We all deserve much better so be sure to vote in the Municipal Election on Oct. 24, 2022.
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