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Council/City staff stall Valin conflict presentation to avoid embarrassment

Council and staff have become so secretive they will not even make the invitation to Valin public
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An appearance before Council by Integrity Commissioner George Valin has been sidelined by fear the former judge will speak freely about the circumstances surrounding his report and embarrass city staff, a source inside City Hall tells BayToday.

See Valin's report here.

After he filed his report, Valin offered at no charge, to come back and publically address council on how its code of conduct bylaw could be improved.

Mysteriously however, in response, City solicitor Peter Leckie produced an unsolicited 11-page report saying Valin's advice wasn't needed. Oddly, that flew in the face of a motion already passed by council inviting Valin to appear before it.

See: City solicitor to Integrity Commissioner: your advice on our Code of Conduct rules 'not required'

No councillor asked for Leckie's opinion, but Communication Officer Gord Young told BayToday that, "The report was brought forward by Staff because there was information that our legal team and senior administration believed Council needed to be made aware of." But Young did not explain why it took a year for staff to spring into action, or why it did not follow Council's earlier direction.

Read Leckie's complete report here.

At the time, Councillor George Maroosis said he found Leckie's report "rather strange" and "almost out of order."

"We're getting a report that isn't necessary. I can't imagine where it came from. We did not ask the legal department for a report."

Maroosis said council a year ago accepted Valin's report and decided it wanted to speak with the author. "This one (Leckie report) came forward without us even asking for it."

In a vote, five North Bay city councillors stood their ground in supporting a Valin appearance, (Ed Valenti, Mark King, Scott Robertson, Chris Mayne, and George Maroosis) pushing back against five fellow councillors (Mac Bain, Bill and Tanya Vrebosch, Dave Mendicino, and Johanne Brousseau) who voted with Leckie's report trying to block the invitation to Valin.

The source says the invitation to Valin contains restrictions and conditions on what can be addressed, leaving the former judge handcuffed about the topics he felt needed to be discussed.

So in a nutshell it appears that senior staff drafted an invitation, containing conditions they knew Valin could not accept, then blamed Valin for his non-appearance saying he declined to accept the invitation. Council members went along with it.

BayToday asked to see the invitation but the request was denied by City Hall staff forcing us to file a Freedom of Information request to make the document public.

See: FOI filed today to see contents of Valin invitation

That was filed two weeks ago, and so far there has still been no response from the City.

BayToday previously reached out to CAO David Euler and Mayor Al McDonald for an interview regarding the invitation but was unsuccessful.

Valin did respond, saying he did not wish to negotiate through the media, and simply issued a statement that said, "I was agreeable to returning to speak to council, however, a specific agreement could not be reached regarding the parameters of what I would be allowed to address."

Citizen watchdog Kevin Ferris said at the time that Leckie "cherry-picked" items to include in the report recommending Valin not be given a chance to speak.

A scandal broke when the report by Valin revealed that Mayor Al McDonald voted, in an Invest North Bay closed meeting and against the Board's own conflict of interest guidelines, to award a $1.2M marketing contract to his friend and campaign manager Bill Ferguson of TWG Communications. 

"The author (Leckie) failed to mention that Valin clearly outlined the real conflict that McDonald and (Canadore President) George Burton had with TWG. That's not in Leckie's report, and that's important," stated Ferris.

"It appears Council is just happy with just the bare minimum standards that are laid out by the government. They're not looking at improving any of that. I would think we would want to have the best standards, not the bare minimum."

Meanwhile, it appears there is growing support during this election to allow Valin to appear on his own terms.

Mayoral candidate Peter Chirico, during the recent Pride debate, accused councillor and mayoralty candidate Johanne Brousseau of not being transparent on the issue, after she said it is simply a matter of improving communication.

Speaking specifically about Valin he said "Judge Valin was going to come forward and give us some tips on how we improve our code of conduct. I believe you voted against him coming. So when you say you want it to be transparent you didn't demonstrate that in just the past six months.

"How much money are we spending on Freedom of Information requests? Frustration levels grow because people aren't getting the information, and quite frankly, I don't know why they're not.

"I pledge to be open and transparent. I will invite Judge Valin to come to the first council meeting he's available to talk about that code of conduct and how we can do better."

Brousseau responded, that a year went by between inviting Valin and the invitation actually going out.

"During that time our Integrity Commissioner had concerns about the report and so did our city solicitor. And so the solicitor asked to reneg on inviting the judge back. I voted yes on that, but at the end of the day it was a 5-5 vote and we lost and we did send an invitation to Judge Valin and he declined, so that's the end of that."

But it appears not to be the end.

Former deputy mayor Sheldon Forgette has become the second municipal candidate to pledge to invite Valin to speak with no strings attached, calling it "very important."

Also, Councillor Mark King says he will introduce a motion early in the term to again invite Judge Valin to speak to council, and that no strings would be attached with respect to his visit. "We just want to hear from him," says King. "There is a need for the new council, and the general public, to have the opportunity to listen to Judge Valin. We need to start with a clean slate. Council has to regain the trust of the public."

You can view the full exchange between Chirico and Brousseau here starting at the 56-minute mark.

See also: Valin's invite to speak to Council went out today

And: Five fight, and win, against bid to silence Integrity Commissioner

And: Council to discuss Integrity Commissioner's recommendations, but won't touch main report

And: City officials 'thumb their noses' at Valin's report

And: Integrity Commissioner raises 'troubling issues' says Ferris, in report on Invest North Bay conflict of interest allegations

And: Silence of the lambs. Councillors sit on their hands to avoid embarrassing mayor over integrity commissioner's report

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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