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Council wants to know litigation options following inquiry

A majority of council called for a more 'aggressive' approach to following up with the town's legal counsel in the wake of the final report of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry
Collingwood Town Hall Erika Engel/CollingwoodToday

Collingwood council instructed staff to hold off on further legislative changes suggested by the final report from the Judicial Inquiry, and instead prioritize a meeting with solicitors and former CAOs to see what other legal action can be taken. 

Staff brought a report on Collingwood Judicial Inquiry next steps to council on Monday (Feb. 1), proposing a series of three “white papers” designed to draft new legislation and policies for the town, seek public input on the changes, then turn them into actions, policy, and procedure for the town. 

However, council told staff to defer that work until after council could meet with the legal team that represented the town at the inquiry. 

“Bylaw updates are fantastic,” said Councillor Bob Madigan. “But those who are responsible for this need to be held accountable.” 

Councillor Kathy Jeffery brought forward a motion telling staff to arrange a meeting between the inquiry legal team and town council by Feb. 28 and to also arrange individual meetings between council and its former CAOs John Brown and Fareed Amin by that date.

“Council’s engagement needs to be … face to face meetings,” said Jeffery. “Not receiving information distilled by staff.” 

Each meeting would be in-camera and for the purposes of receiving advice from the solicitors and former CAOs on next steps. 

“I don’t know what I don’t know,” said Jeffery. “I hope this is supported so we leave no stone unturned.”

Current CAO Sonya Skinner told council she has already reached out to the town’s inquiry counsel team and has arranged an in-camera meeting between council and the town’s solicitors on Feb. 16. Skinner said she asked the lawyers to comment on whether there were any legal avenues the town could or should pursue. 

“I’m baffled that we haven’t heard from [legal counsel] yet,” said Councillor Mariane McLeod. 

Deputy Mayor Keith Hull said he was also surprised there hadn’t been a meeting between council and the inquiry lawyers for the town yet. 

“I very much would like to hear from our two former CAO’s,” added Hull. 

Council has also ordered staff to get a written report from the town’s legal counsel for the inquiry detailing the solicitors work, the outcomes, and any recommendations they have. The report, states the motion passed by council, should be delivered to town council no later than 48 hours before the meeting. 

CAO Skinner offered a word of caution before council’s vote, suggesting a written report could be “somewhat expensive.” 

“Staff has given legal counsel an upper limit of a modest number of hours [to prepare for the meeting], and that did not include a written report, but it did include a chance for council to ask questions,” said Skinner. “You might want to consider the costs or consider getting an estimate before moving forward.” 

As for a meeting with CAOs, Skinner reiterated she has reached out to both and received informal feedback from at least one. Former CAO Amin is still on contract with the town for consulting on an as-needed basis. 

“I think if it was helpful, I would spend the money [to consult with the former CAOs] and I wouldn’t need this direction from council to do so,” said Skinner. 

Councillors Deb Doherty, Tina Comi, and Yvonne Hamlin were against the motion for a written report. 

“I’m at my absolute spending limit,” said Comi, with similar sentiments expressed by Doherty. 

Councillor Hamlin said she didn’t think it was necessary to ask for a written report before the meeting with solicitors. 

“We can take the opportunity to ask our questions at that meeting before asking for a final report,” said Hamlin. “I would recommend following the advice of our CAO that she has this in hand already.” 

The three councillors, however, were outvoted by the rest of council. 

Councillor McLeod said she’d like to be able to look residents in the eyes and say council did all they could and “left no stone unturned.” 

Councillor Berman suggested if the testimony of the former CAOs was important enough to call them as witnesses during the inquiry, it was important for council to also hear from them. 

Skinner confirmed Friday (Feb. 5) the scheduled Feb. 16 in-camera meeting is still booked. 

"There is no date or news on potential CAOs appearances to share at this point," said Skinner.

Town staff asked council for permission to move ahead with three white papers to take all 306 recommendations from Commissioner Frank Marrocco’s final report and put them into a “relatively small set of bylaws and proposed changes to legislation at the provincial level.” 

Skinner said the idea behind the white papers, which would be delivered throughout the year up to September, could be used to get public and expert input on new legislation to change local governance and strongly recommend the province make similar changes to it’s laws governing municipalities. Once the feedback was received, staff could report back with a “comprehensive set of recommendations for actions. 

“I think when you get those, I hope what you’ll be seeing is some of the best in ethical governance and transparency that Ontario has to offer,” said Skinner. “It will be well-consulted and well-informed.” 

Council opted to defer any further movement on white papers until after it met with the town’s inquiry lawyers and former CAOs. 

Council did, however, give staff the go-ahead to send out a request for proposal (bids) looking for a new integrity commissioner who will report directly to the town and also serve as lobbyist registrar and offer fairness monitoring services for the town. 

A fairness monitor is a third-party person or group called in to oversee part or all of a significant purchase. 

The town does have an accountability officer acting as the current lobbyist registrar, but Commissioner Marrocco’s report recommended the work of the registrar be completed by an independent person not on town staff. The registrar duties involve deciding what action is and isn’t lobbying. 

The town has appointed the firm Principles Integrity for its integrity officer, but Skinner noted the contract expires soon. 

The Collingwood Judicial Inquiry was ordered by council in 2018 to investigate the 50 per cent share sale of the town’s electrical utility (COLLUS) to PowerStream and the subsequent spending of the proceeds of the share sale.

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Erika Engel

About the Author: Erika Engel

Erika regularly covers all things news in Collingwood as a reporter and editor. She has 13 years of experience as a local journalist
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