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

It was five on five action at City Hall as an attempt by Al McDonald supporters to block Integrity Commissioner George Valin from speaking to council was defeated
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North Bay City Hall

Five North Bay city councillors stood their ground Tuesday evening, pushing back against five fellow councillors trying to block an invitation to Integrity Commissioner George Valin to address council on its Code of Conduct rules.

A scandal broke last year when a report by Valin revealed that Mayor Al McDonald voted, in an Invest North Bay closed meeting, to award a $1.2M marketing contract to his friend and campaign manager Bill Ferguson of TWG Communications. 

See Valin's report here.

McDonald's action clearly broke INB's own conflict of interest rules. The organization reports directly to City Council. McDonald has never publicly acknowledged or explained his actions.

See: Here's the Conflict of Interest policy Invest North Bay doesn't want you to see

Valin also reported that Canadore College President George Burton also broke the rules by voting to give the contract to TWG, despite Ferguson being Chair of the Executive Committee at the college that determined Burton's contract and pay.

"Specifically to Mr. Burton and Mr. McDonald sitting on the proposal review committee at Invest North Bay Development Corporation that reviewed an RFP (request for proposal) from Mr. (Bill) Ferguson’s company, TWG Communications, without disclosing to the board their relationships with the bidder," wrote Valin.

See: Open letter: McDonald and Burton broke Invest North Bay conflict of interest rules say Ferris and Peltier

The release of the report led to Valin offering to address Council to assist in strengthening the City's Code of Conduct rules.

That offer was accepted unanimously by Council a year ago, but City staff stalled movement and the invite was never sent.

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

Then last month, and despite Council's earlier decision, City Solicitor Peter Leckie issued his own report stating Valin's advice "is not required."

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

No councillor apparently 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.

"Staff reports are brought forward to Council in this manner on a regular basis," added Young.

That led to the Tuesday night showdown with Councillor Bill Vrebosch bringing forth a motion to cancel the meeting with Valin.

Mayor McDonald, who didn't declare a conflict when awarding the million-dollar contract to TWG, declared a conflict of interest on the motion to block Valin's appearance.

Councillor Scott Robertson started things off by saying he wouldn't support it. "Council gave unanimous direction to staff a year ago on this issue. I think we should have already invited this person as a guest."

Councillor Mark King, who first put forth the resolution to invite Valin a year ago, says he was "surprised" to see the motion put forward, adding he was looking forward to hearing what Valin has to say.

"He's a judge in the city and obviously well-respected. It certainly could have been used as a learning opportunity. I'm concerned that we're going down this road. Concerning public perception, we work for the public and there is interest in the public forum about what Judge Valin would have to say. I'm disappointed. We have a job to do. Sometimes it can be very, very difficult, sometimes it's easy but in this particular case it's quite easy. Let's invite Judge Valin and hear what he has to say." 

Councillor Ed Valenti, who ran on a platform of transparency, was curious why the invite, after a year's delay, hadn't already been extended.

"I'm just curious about that," wondered Valenti who repeated he wants an open and transparent forum for Valin to present.

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."

Councillor Bil Vrebosch did not want Valin to appear, urging fellow councillors to "put this issue to bed."

"I understand what councillor King says about openness but this is open. There's no other way you can say this. This council is very open  I think it's time to stop spending money on this thing, take Judge Valin's report and file it."

Councillor Dave Mendicino, who is now Chair of Invest North Bay, also did not want Valin to appear.

"This thing has been investigated to the nth degree. I'm in full support of the motion."

Valenti then repeated how important it was to discuss the issue in an open forum.

"It's important for us to demonstrate to taxpayers and the public that we are willing to look at all discussions on this."

Councillor Mayne called it "a unique opportunity" to have someone who is a judge and a former councillor of North Bay, as well as a citizen of North Bay to come forth and "share some information and background. on an issue he is professionally engaged with."

Valenti asked for a recorded vote.

Voting against the motion, and for Valin to appear before council, was Valenti, Mark King, Scott Robertson, Chris Mayne, and George Maroosis.

Voting for the motion and against Valin appearing was Mac Bain, Bill and Tanya Vrebosch, Dave Mendicino, and Johanne Brousseau. 

Mayor McDonald did not vote after declaring a conflict, resulting in a 5-5 tie and so the motion was defeated.

The vote means the invitation to Valin remains open, as it has been for the past year with no invites extended.

It's not clear who is responsible for issuing the invitation or when, or if it will just sit there as has for the past 12 months.

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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