An integrity commissioner has ruled Mayor Sandra Cooper contravened the town’s code of conduct by voting on a matter related to the sale of the Collingwood Regional Airport.
The investigation into Cooper’s vote was launched due to a complaint made on March 13 by Steve Berman, who has filed to run for council in the 2018 municipal election.
The complaint was regarding a vote by council on Feb. 12, 2018 to spend $100,000 on consulting advisory services in the sale of the Collingwood Regional Airport. The vote was recorded and Cooper voted against the motion to hire the consultant for $100,000.
Cooper’s brother, Paul Bonwick, is senior vice-president of operations and business development with the Clearview Aviation Business Park (CABP), which is a development company that sells or leases property for aviation-related business at Collingwood Regional Airport.
Principles Integrity, the integrity commissioner service hired by the County of Simcoe and used by Collingwood as part of an agreement with the county, submitted a report to council, which was included on the May 14 consent agenda.
Deputy Mayor Saunderson spearheaded a motion to have the integrity commissioner come back to council for an in-person report on the investigation into Berman’s complaint and all other complaints in future.
Previously, the integrity commissioner hired by the town would report each time they investigated a complaint and had findings to report. According to Clerk Sara Almas, the contract with the county’s integrity commissioner service states Principles Integrity will make an in-person report to council annually on the complaints investigated and the findings.
Councillors Kevin Lloyd and Mike Edwards voted against the motion saying an annual report plus the written reports were enough.
According to the recently submitted report, the integrity commissioner found Cooper in contravention of the town’s code of conduct bylaw, saying she should have recused herself from the vote. The report did not recommend sanctions.
“In our review of council minutes, we identified at least seven different meetings between January 2015 and October 2016 at which the Mayor declared an interest in recognition of CABP’s interest in an airport-related issue,” states the Principles Integrity report. “However, from August 2017 to February 2018, on at least four occasions, when council has specifically been discussing the future operations and potential divestiture of the airport, the Mayor has not declared an interest, and has participated in the discussion.”
The report acknowledges Cooper made inquiries of staff and her brother to confirm CABP had not declared an interest in purchasing the airport in order to avoid a conflict of interest.
The report states voting to fund a consultant was a step toward the sale of the airport and the sale of the airport will have an impact on CABP, and therefore Bonwick.
“The rule against conflicts of interest needs to be applied at every step,” states the report. “The better course of action would have been for [Cooper] to declare an interest and not participate.”
Principles Integrity found no cause for sanctions against Cooper, but did make three recommendations for Cooper and council.
The report recommends the mayor refrain from any further participation on matters related to the divestiture of the airport and suggests the mayor clearly state her brother’s position with CABP when declaring a conflict on the airport sale.
The report also recommends all of council seek the advice of the integrity commissioner if they believe they could have a conflict of interest on a matter coming before council. The report suggests seeking this clarification before the matter is discussed at a meeting.