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

'This is all very disappointing, but not surprising at all.  In fact it's exactly how I expected Council to try to just ignore this issue and have it fade away'
McDonald al Headshot turl 2017
North Bay Mayor Al McDonald. Photo by Jeff Turl.

City councillors appear to be in no hurry to tighten up the conflict of interest rules that apply to themselves.

It's been 10 months since Integrity Commissioner George Valin offered to appear before council to offer advice on how to improves the bylaw, following the disclosure by Valin that Mayor Al McDonald had voted in favour of giving his friend and campaign manager a $1.2 million marketing contract while a member of Invest North Bay, in direct violation of INB's own conflict of interest policy.

Valin had no jurisdiction over Invest North Bay, and found McDonald did not break North Bay's own code od conduct rules, but found fault with how those rules were written up. That was Dec. of 2020.

Back then a motion by Councillor Mark King was passed, accepting Valin's offer to discuss his recommendations for strengthening its Code of Conduct guidelines.

But the main contents of the report, which looked into conflict of interest allegations against former Invest North Bay chair George Burton and Mayor McDonald would be off-limits at the insistence of Councillor Mac Bain.

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

Valin wrote. "Council may have some interest in amending the Code of Conduct to include a rule requiring members to avoid conflicts of interest outside of the scope and application of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act." Valin was expected to make his appearance sometime early this year.

So far, crickets.

Concerned citizen Kevin Ferris has emailed all 10 councillors asking for an explanation of why Valin hasn't been asked to appear, despite council's invitation. Council has cancelled some meetings over the summer because of a lack of workload, so it's not like they've been too busy to listen to Valin's advice.

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

Only Councillor Scott Robertson, the seconder of the original motion, has said he would look into it, the rest of the councillors have ignored Ferris' request.

"This is all very disappointing, but not surprising at all," Ferris told BayToday. "In fact, it's exactly how I expected Council to try to just ignore this issue and have it fade away. The City is well on its way to being a repeat winner of the Code of Silence Award.

See: An embarrassing win! North Bay most secretive municipal government in Canada says journalist's group

And: Mayor McDonald 'disappointed' over Code of Silence award, but has no plans to improve situation

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

"The people of North Bay should be very concerned with the lack of integrity in the way the City and some of its Boards conduct themselves," added Ferris. "We have what appears to be a clear violation of Invest North Bay's own Conflict of Interest Policy (which INB refuses to make public, but I obtained a copy) by both the former President George Burton and Mayor Al McDonald, but no Board member past or present had the courage to do the right thing.

"Justice Valin has several recommendations on how to improve the City's Code of Conduct, which conveniently didn't apply to Invest North Bay. Here we are 10 months later and still no action from Council to invite Valin despite a promise to do so at the December 21, 2020 Council meeting. Once again, this Council is all talk and no action and no accountability. When Board members can sit on a bid selection committee and award their pal Ferguson at TWG a $1 million dollar marketing contract with no oversight the taxpayers are the suckers once again."

BayToday called the clerk's office in the City to find out the cause of the delay and who was responsible for it.

We received no reply, but instead got an emailed statement from the Communications Manager Gord Young.

"No date has been set for this and staff will be seeking further direction from Council on the matter," was Young's curt reply. There was no response as to why the lengthy delay or who was responsible for it.

That doesn't satisfy Ferris.

"My comment to Gord’s response would be that clearly the old boys club is alive and well and council has no desire to seriously tackle their Code of Conduct deficiencies. The status quo is just fine with them and they’re hoping we all just forget and move along. As much as some of you would like this whole issue to just go away, it won't. "

BayToday asked McDonald for an interview but the request was ignored. A similar request of Young drew the response, "The Mayor declared a conflict on this matter."

While the conflict, because the mayor is listed in Valin's report, may apply during council meetings it does not stop McDonald from commenting or explaining the issue publicly.

"A commitment was made by you to invite Justice Valin to speak to Council, and the people of North Bay deserve to hear from him," said Ferris.

Read Valin's full report here.

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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