Council Preview

By John Swartz

Orillia council has a special council meeting Monday at 9 a.m. in addition to it’s regular council meeting at 4 p.m. The preview of the special meeting is a separate story here.

There are two deputations on the agenda. Dr. Si Lowry and Annalise Stenekes of Mariposa House Hospice will give an update on the opening and operation of the hospice and have a request for short-term funding.

Since opening in February this year they have served 60 families. Mariposa House gets $525,000 annually from the province to fund nursing and personal support services.. Simcoe County does not provide any funding. The annual budget is $1,100,000, so the difference must be raised by other means. All hospices in Ontario have the same circumstance.

They have a number of fundraising activities, but this year and last it’s been difficult to do any public events to raise funds. They are asking council for a two year commitment of $50,000 annually to help them get over the hump the pandemic has caused to their fundraising efforts. They believe their revenue will be stable and sustainable in 2 to 3 years time and state they will not be coming back to council for more funding.

A second deputation will be made by Michael Ryan of the Simcoe County Food Council and Chris Peacock of the Sharing Place Food Centre to give council an update on implementing the Simcoe County Food Security Network.

The group has 7 goals they are working toward. Among them are to support incomes and housing to reduce household food insecurity, and to improve community food infrastructure to support the local agri-food sector.

They point out in 2016, 25.8% of households in Simcoe County were spending more than 30% of income on housing. This affects how much people have to spend on food if the rent is too high.

One of their objectives is to work with municipalities to improve employment and public transit. They would like council to endorse the network plan and to designate someone as the point person between the City and the network.

Fallis and Closed Sessions

A report from Jeffrey A. Abrams, and Janice Atwood-Petkovski of Principles Integrity about actions taken by councillor Jay Fallis surrounding closed session council meetings that lead to the selection of FRAM Building Group as the developer of City owned waterfront lands is first on the list of reports.

The 22 page report outlines an investigation of Fallis’s decision to consult lawyers about his involvement with the meetings and voting.

The integrity commissioners found that Fallis shared documents received May 8, 13 and 15, which were shared with Fallis’s lawyer and a second lawyer

The integrity commissioner states during a closed session meeting on May 19, “the Respondent [Fallis] indicated that he had concerns about legal advice Council had received in closed session; that it went to a core issue of the RFP; that he had asked Council to obtain outside legal advice on the point (Council chose not to do so); and that he had concerns about his own personal liability as a result. The Respondent indicated that he had reached out to a ‘seasoned lawyer’ to seek advice with respect to his own liability.”

Also noted in the report is someone – it is not clear who – may have misinterpreted the RFP and the legal advice provided by the City’s solicitor, Amanpreet Singh Sidhu – who is also the City’s general manager of corporate services.

Later in the report, the integrity commissioner states, “It is apparent that the Respondent caused his outside counsel to be under a clear misapprehension of a central fact – one which at the end of the day was based on a basic mathematical miscalculation resulting from a failure to understand a key evaluation provision in the RFP.”

On May 12 Fallis wanted council to get outside legal advice and was not supported on that point. He perceived he was opening himself up to personal liability, which prompted him to seek his own counsel.

At a May 19 meeting, Fallis let it be known he had sought advice and Mayor Steve Clarke questioned the propriety of that and indicated Fallis may not have the ability to continue to participate, which Fallis took to mean he was in conflict, which he then declared and left the meeting. Fallis contacted his lawyer again that evening.

The integrity commissioner states, “It is important to note at this point that the legal advice the Respondent obtained supported the conclusions (though perhaps for other reasons) reached by the City’s own counsel. The outside counsel did however come to a different conclusion on a fundamental element of the RFP – on a matter the Respondent had already raised as a question in closed session on May 12th and for which a clear explanation had been given. It is apparent that the Respondent caused his outside counsel to be under a clear misapprehension of a central fact – one which at the end of the day was based on a basic mathematical miscalculation resulting from a failure to understand a key evaluation provision in the RFP.”

The use of the word clear, depends on ‘to whom.’ It also important to note, throughout the report the integrity commissioner refers to a part of the RFP as the central issue, when in fact as seen in the quote above, it was how the elements of the proposals defined in the RFP were scored – not the RFP itself.

The integrity commissioner found Fallis to be in breach of council’s code of conduct. Several points of the code are outlined in the report which the commissioner believes apply. Fallis believes his action upheld the code of conduct and the commissioner includes this response to the investigation from Fallis:

“I strongly believe that if I hadn’t sought external legal advice on this matter in a personal capacity, I would have been violating all of the sections of the Code of Conduct noted above. I had serious concerns as to the legitimacy of the advice provided, and, because of this, I consulted a lawyer in a confidential and privileged context regarding my own liability and obligations. My concerns were confirmed.1 I believe leaving our City to be subjected to improper advice would have been unacceptable to me and to our City’s Code of Conduct as a whole.”

Though a footnote is indicated, there is nothing in the report explaining the footnote. In the end, the commissioner recommended council pass a motion with the following wording:

“That having been found to have breached the City of Orillia’s Council Code of Conduct, Councillor Fallis’ pay be suspended for a period of between 30 and 45 days commencing with the next pay period.”

That said, council can do what it wants and apply a stiffer penalty or none. Fallis has made public a letter explaining himself, which can be read here. The full text of the report can be found here, starting at page 49. An analysis of this issue can be found here.

Other Business

Councillor Ralph Cipolla has a two part notice of motion on the agenda. Both concern the Terry Fox Circle redesign. The first part is to reconsider council’s previous decision, the second the design be “suspended until such time as staff report back on the impact of changes to be determined by council.”

In the consent agenda portion of the night’s business the Orillia and District Arts Council has a budget request to fund operations in the amount of $52,000. This amount would fund a part-time staff position, keep the Discovering the Artist Within mental health and art program alive, and provide expenses of $11,000. They would like council to give it a mandate to become the, “fiscal and conceptual coordinator for city art programs.”

In by-laws there is a motion to appoint Chris Ferry as acting fire chief and another to appoint Steve Miller as deputy fire chief. The current fire chief, Brent Thomas has taken a job as chief of Innisfil’s fire department.

Another by-law confirms the sale of two lots in the Horne Business Park to 1923084 Ontario Inc., which is Norwood Industries operating as Norwood Sawmills, manufacturers of portable saw mills.

The regular council meeting is a video conference and the chamber is closed to the public. The public can watch it live on Rogers TV.

(Photos by Swartz – SUNonline/Orillia)


Support Independent Journalism