Collingwood’s mayor stands behind the decision to call a judicial inquiry, even at the current cost of $7.1 million.
“I believe categorically that the judicial inquiry has provided value for our community,” said Mayor Brian Saunderson during a press conference today.
The commissioner of the inquiry, Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, released his four-volume report today. The more than 800 pages includes 306 recommendations, about 240 of which are specific to the Town of Collingwood’s municipal governance.
“There are some people who are concerned about the cost of the judicial inquiry,” said Saunderson. “While it is more than we were advised at the outset, we should remind ourselves about how we got to striking the inquiry.”
The mayor recalled the previous council, when he was deputy mayor, “had many questions about the 2012 sale.”
He said those questions were not being answered.
“We did not want to spend a dollar on looking into town issues, but we had no alternative,” said the mayor, noting Marrocco’s report has shown there was cause for concern and problems at town hall.
“To me, this was a necessary investment … Today, we finally have answers. With those answers we have dispelled the clouds of rumour and innuendo that have hung over the community for far too long.”
The mayor said he and council are committed to working through the recommendations with staff to come up with a plan.
Marrocco made six recommendations specific to the role of the mayor.
For the first two, he suggested a change to the Ontario Municipal Act to remove the “inaccurate description of the head of council as the chief executive officer of the municipality.”
Marrocco said the hearings for the inquiry showed the mayor’s roles and responsibilities were misunderstood.
“The erroneous belief that the mayor, by virtue of being described as the ‘chief executive officer of the municipality,’ had the power to provide unilateral direction on behalf of council, without council’s agreement or approval, underpinned the lack of transparency around the origins of the Collus share sale, where directions from the mayor were treated as if they had the weight of directions issued by council,” stated Marrocco in his report.
Mayor Saunderson said the recommendation to change the Municipal Act description of a mayor’s role is “excellent.”
“The mayor is first among equals,” said Saunderon. “They have no ability to instruct staff unilaterally.”
He said it was a “critical recommendation” to further reinforce the message that the mayor, deputy mayor, and council stay “in their lane.”
“We have seen through Justice Marrocco’s findings there were a number of members of council who were not in their lane.”
Marrocco also made recommendations for the town to set out a bylaw for expectations concerning the mayor. Specifically, Marrocco stated the bylaw should require the mayor demonstrate leadership to council regarding compliance with ethical policies and codes of conduct as well as relevant bylaws and town policies.
Marrocco recommended the mayor should intervene when he or she becomes aware of uncivil conduct at council or committee meetings or in work-related circumstances.
And in the last of the six recommendations related to the office of the mayor, Morocco recommended the town should put a public and transparent mechanism in place to deal with issues between the mayor and the town’s chief administrative officer.
The 306th recommendation in Justice Marrocco’s report is for council to report back to the public in one year’s time to let residents know what recommendations have been implemented.
Mayor Saunderson said that, too, was an “excellent recommendation,” and said council will work with staff and legal advisors on how to implement recommendations and will come back in a year to give a status update.
The Collingwood Judicial Inquiry was called in February of 2018 to investigate the 2012 share sale of Collus to PowerStream and the subsequent spending of share sale proceeds to build two fabric membrane recreation facilities – Central Park Arena and Centennial Aquatic Centre.
The inquiry’s final report was released today and is available on the inquiry website here.