Councillor cleared of conflict allegations

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by Vance Gutzman

A Deep River councillor has been cleared of conflict of interest allegations.

In a decision dated September 15, the the town’s integrity commissioner, Guy Giorno, ruled that Terry Myers did not violate the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) over the appointment of one of his co-workers to the town’s police services board.

That complaint was submitted last May by Claire Watts, on behalf of 23 people who signed a petition to that effect.

The complaint alleged that Myers, as a member of the town’s striking committee, “did not recuse himself from participating in the evaluation and recommendation of his business partner, Kelly Lapping’s application for membership to the Deep River Police Services Board.”

Myers, in addition to being a member of town council, is also editor of the North Renfrew Times (NRT).

The NRT, through auspices of Digest Media Inc., has been jointly owned by Myers, its publisher, Lapping, and its associate editor, Vance Gutzman.

The complaint alleged that Myers “failed in his statutory duty” to declare an indirect pecuniary interest in Lapping’s appointment, pursuant to the provisions of the MCIA.

The section of the Act cited in the complaint states that “a member has an indirect pecuniary interest in any matter in which the council or local board, as the case may be, is concerned,” if the member is a “partner of a person… that has a pecuniary interest in the matter.”

“There is no disagreement on the basic fact that Kelly Lapping is the business partner of Councillor Myers,” the complaint stated.

“The only question to be resolved is whether there is sufficient cause to believe Councillor Myers was aware, or should have reasonably been aware, that the appointment in question was subject to an honorarium payment…

“That pecuniary interest is, by statutory definition, an indirect pecuniary interest of Councillor Myers, her business partner, as defined in the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.”

Analysis

But in his analysis and findings related to the complaint, Giorno stated that, while Lapping “has a pecuniary interest in her appointment,” there is “no evidence, and no reason to conclude, that Digest Media Inc. has any pecuniary interest in the Police Services Board appointment.”

“The appointment is personal, not corporate,” Giorno stated.

Giorno went on to note to that, while Myers and Lapping are shareholders of Digest Media, and directors of the corporation, “what the respondent (Myers) and Ms. Lapping are not, is partners.”

“They are shareholders and directors of the same company, but not partners in the accepted, legal sense.”

“Because Ms. Lapping is not his partner, the respondent does not have an indirect pecuniary interest in her appointment on that basis,” Giorno stated.

“Further, the company of which they are shareholders and directors does not, itself, have a pecuniary interest in the Police Services Board appointment.

“Consequently, the respondent (Myers) does not possess an indirect pecuniary interest on that alternative basis.”

Giorno went on to state that “finally, as the company does not have a pecuniary interest in the appointment, an employee of the company would not thereby possess an indirect pecuniary interest.”

“In my view, the respondent does not, and at the time of council and committee consideration did not, possess a pecuniary interest in Ms. Lapping’s appointment.

“In my view, the respondent did not contravene the MCIA.”

Giorno also closed the door on taking the matter any further through making an application to an Ontario court judge.

“The Municipal Act leaves this decision to the Integrity Commissioner, based on what the Integrity Commissioner feels is appropriate,” he stated.

“Having concluded that the respondent did not contravene the MCIA, it would make no sense for me to commence a court application in which I argue the opposite.

“If I commenced a court application then I would bear the onus of proving that Councillor Myers breached the MCIA. I do not have evidence that would prove a breach.

“I do not consider it appropriate for me to apply to a judge for a determination as to whether Councillor Myers contravened section 5 of the MCIA.”

Giorno has invoiced the town for just over seven hours of work at $300 an hour, for a total of $2,130, for costs related to his inquiry of the matter.

Asked for his comment on the issue, Myers said in May that he was “disappointed that none of the people involved, not the author of this complaint nor any of the people who have lent their names to it as signatories, some of whom I have known personally for many years, took the time to speak to me about these concerns directly and openly.”

“The truth is, the basis of this complaint is factually incorrect, and I am confident that I did nothing that should be considered a violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

“My only interest in this issue was then and remains today that the best candidate from among those who applied was appointed to an important public position in our community.”

Published in the North Renfrew Times September 18, 2019

Link to Integrity Commissioner’s decision: http://canlii.ca/t/j2dsh