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Invest North Bay must enforce its own conflict of interest policy or disband says Ferris

'It has become very evident that INBDC operates with no oversight from its Board or from Council.  If their own Conflict of Interest Policy is not enforced, then it is not worth the paper it is written on'

The Board of Invest North Bay needs to investigate and enforce its conflict of interest policy regarding a $1.2 million dollar marketing contract given to TWG Communications, a company with close ties to Mayor Al McDonald and former Board Chairman George Burton, says Kevin Ferris, a private citizen looking into the matter.

Invest North Bay's conflict of interest policy is not listed on its website and has never been made public. It only came to light after an investigation by Integrity Commissioner George Valin into a complaint that North Bay's code of conduct policy had been broken on the same issue. 

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

Valin's report states that TWG co-owner Bill Ferguson was McDonald’s campaign manager in the municipal elections conducted in 2010, 2014, and 2018 and paid TWG a substantial amount of money for advertising undertaken during his election campaigns.

See Valin's report here.

The Financial Statement-Auditor’s Report filed by McDonald pursuant to the Municipal Elections Act for the 2010 municipal election reveals that he paid TWG Communications the sum of $26,366.25 for advertising and marketing-related expenses. "That amount represents 93% of Mr. McDonald’s total election expenses," says Valin.

The Financial Statement-Auditor’s Report filed by McDonald for the 2014 election reveals that he paid TWG Communications the sum of $22,600 for advertising and marketing-related expenses. That amount represents 91 per cent of McDonald’s total election expenses.

"I conclude, on a balance of probabilities, that between and during the years 2010 to 2018, the Respondent Mr. McDonald enjoyed a personal and business or professional relationship with William Ferguson."

In September 2015, Ferguson was the chair of the Board of Governors of Canadore College, and chair of its executive committee, when the College negotiated a five-year extension of Burton’s contract as its President at an agreed stipend of $1.2 million.

Ferris, who is working with another private citizen Nicole Peltier, asserts that by voting to award the contract to TWG,  it amounts to a conflict of interest that both McDonald, who is a director on the board, and Burton, who was its chairman, should have declared, but did not.

Despite INB claims of transparency, there has never been a public accounting from the board regarding that $1.2 million dollar contract that was signed with TWG and subsequently broken. At its recent Annual General Meeting, the Board refused to take questions from reporters.

At one time, its website trumpeted a guiding principles statement that stated, "While working in a business environment and at arm’s-length to the City, the Corporation will articulate transparency, accountability and responsibility." That statement has since been deleted. 

See: Invest North Bay annual meeting short on info about attracting new business

BayToday reached out to both McDonald and Burton for comment on the issue this week but again received no response.

On Monday, Ferris and Peltier wrote an open letter to the Invest Board Executive Director, Ian Kilgour asking for an explanation. Kilgour replied that the letter will be brought to the attention of the Board.

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

Ferris wanted to know how the Board would be enforcing its Conflict of Interest Policy with respect to Burton’s and McDonald’s conduct. 

BayToday reached out to Kilgour Tuesday to obtain a copy of the policy but did not receive a response to the request.

Board member and City Councillor Marcus Tignanelli confirmed the matter is on the agenda for the next board meeting on Jan. 26 but offered no details to the question of if he would support the Board looking into the possible conflict of interest. The same request to board director and city councillor Dave Mendicino yesterday also received no response.

The Board appears in complete disarray, failing to replace its chairman for almost five months after Burton resigned in early September last year, along with a number of directors leaving, The Board is reportedly having difficulty attracting new members and there are concerns about being able to reach meeting quorum. Only five directors are private citizens.

The agreement with the City stipulates a maximum of 14 directors but sets no minimum. Presently there are only nine, with no chairman.

"In light of the fact that the Operating Agreement between the City of North Bay and INBDC is up for renewal in 2021, the issues we have raised are both timely and relevant to the ongoing relationship that exists between these two entities," says Ferris.

"Through our inquiry, it has become very evident that INBDC operates with no oversight from its Board or from Council. If their own Conflict of Interest Policy is not enforced, then it is not worth the paper it is written on."

Ferris is calling for the policy to be made public.

"I don't know why they didn't enforce this policy on their own in light of the facts that have come to our attention, but since they didn't we're going to force them to address this at their board meeting," Ferris told BayToday. "The Board failed in its duties to oversee the conduct of its members. That Board is responsible to Council and so Council was also derelict in their oversight. and duties."

Ferris is calling for Invest North Bay to be disbanded,

"If there has been no oversight and no return on investment for the money given to Invest North Bay it seems pretty clear that the operating agreement shouldn't be renewed and this thing should be disbanded. It's pretty evident this is not money well-spent."

Valin had noted in his report that transparency and accountability were discussed before the board  was even established.

"I take comfort in this conclusion in the fact that the concern for transparency and accountability was shared by the City and by the citizen volunteers who would ultimately become the first directors of the development corporation," wrote Valin. "The minutes of the City of North Bay Economic Development Corporation Advisory Board meeting held on March 12, 2015 indicate there was discussion and concern about transparency and accountability in the operations of the proposed development corporation. In their Confidential Report to Council dated April 19, 2015 in which they recommended the establishment of INBDC, the City Solicitor and Chief Administrative Officer stated: “As a municipal corporation, the issue of “control, transparency and accountability will be important…”.

On its website, INB lists the current Board of Directors as:

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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