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More than half of inquiry recommendations complete or nearly complete, says town official

The recommendations from the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry were released Monday, but the town has already implemented several of them
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Collingwood CAO Sonya Skinner presents an initial update to council following the release of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry report and the commissioner's 306 recommendations. Screen capture

Of the 306 recommendations included in the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry report released on Monday, more than half are complete or “substantially” complete according to the town’s chief administrative officer.

Sonya Skinner, CAO for the Town of Collingwood, delivered an update to council during a strategic initiatives committee meeting last night (Nov. 4). She said after an initial quick look at the recommendations included in Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco’s commissioner’s report, the town has already completed 141 of the recommendations and another 63 recommendations are substantially complete.

For instance, the town has a council code of conduct, a lobbyist registry, and training on each of those items for council. All of which were recommended by the inquiry commissioner.

“I think it shows us that we’re on the right path and how to keep moving on that path,” said Skinner of the commissioner’s report.

She said there are 43 recommendations incomplete and another nine requiring action.

Skinner said those items include having the integrity commissioner meet with each council member annually, and having the CAO’s job description published publicly.

Skinner said her job description exists, but “is not as public as the inquiry would have wished it.”

In his report, Marrocco said the importance of the role of CAO was “not appreciated” based on what he heard during the hearings.

“This failure weakened a key pillar in the structure of the municipality, contributed to the blurring of the boundary between council and staff, and made it easier to avoid proper procedure in the pursuit of council’s goal,” wrote Marrocco in his report. “It was also detrimental to the staff’s confidence and morale and interfered with their efforts to provide objective information to council.”

The Collingwood inquiry commissioner recommended the province amend the Municipal Act to describe the roles and responsibilities of the CAO and to require municipalities the size of Collingwood to appoint a CAO. Marrocco also issued 14 recommendations for the Town of Collingwood, including creating a bylaw for the position to define and describe the role, and to set out the relationship between the CAO and council and the CAO and staff.

He said there should be a formal process for complaints against the CAO and such complaints should be reported to the integrity commissioner. Any reprisal or retaliation against a complainant or witness, stated the judge, should be prohibited.

Lastly, Marrocco recommended the CAO’s term be limited to six years and should be non-renewable. Termination of the CAO before the end of his or her term should require a two-thirds majority vote of council, recommended the inquiry report.

Skinner told council staff is working through the inquiry recommendations and accompanying report and will be bringing a more detailed update to council in December or January. The later update from town staff, Skinner promised, will include a breakdown of the resources required to implement the recommendations and the time it will take to put them in place.

“We do intend to provide a series of public updates and engage the public and businesses for their input,” said Skinner. She noted further details on the public sessions are pending.

There are approximately 30 recommendations in Marrocco’s report related to municipally-owned corporations. Though the Town of Collingwood did own a corporation (Collus) in 2012, it no longer owns any corporations. Thus, those recommendations don’t apply to the town anymore, and Skinner said the town would not be acting on those recommendations. However, they could be helpful for other municipalities that do own corporations.

There are also approximately 20 recommendations included in the inquiry report that relate to provincial legislation (the Municipal Act and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act).

Skinner said staff will be meeting with municipal governance officials in the province’s Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, and has requested meetings with MPP Jim Wilson and the local attorney general.

The CAO would also like to bring in her predecessors, former Collingwood CAOs John Brown and Fareed Amin for a conversation with council.

“They supported council in calling for the inquiry, and I believe they will have insights that are useful to you,” Skinner told council.

Both provided testimony during the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry.

The Collingwood Judicial Inquiry was ordered by council in February 2018 to investigate the 2012 share sale of half of Collingwood’s electrical utility to PowerStream. The inquiry was also charged with looking into the decisions that led to spending the proceeds of the sale on two recreation facilities – Central Park Arena and Centennial Aquatic Centre.

Public hearings for the inquiry lasted most of 2019.

The final report from the inquiry was released Monday and is posted online on the inquiry website here.

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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 15 years of experience as a local journalist
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