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Councillors address concerns of back room dealing in council appointments

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

Almost immediately following council’s decision to appoint Councillor Doug Sanders and Gail Bates on March 20, the conspiracy theories began to fly.

And with one of the most contentious decisions of this council term, it’s not surprising that the council chambers was nearly filled to capacity with residents calling for many different options on how to fill the empty seat left behind by the sudden passing of Nancy Diamond.

Rumours of a backroom meeting immediately surfaced, perhaps fuelled by a councillor’s own speculation as to how the decision could have been made so quick inside the chambers. Councillor Amy McQuaid-England attempted to delay the final decision, pointing to the public’s right to choose, absent council members and several other options, all of which were turned down.

“It makes me concerned how much was done before the meeting,” she said at the time. “We’re just finalizing what’s already been discussed.”

When it was finished, filling the gap resulted in two appointments. First, following a motion from Councillor Nester Pidwerbecki, council voted 5-3 to appoint city councillor Doug Sanders to fill Diamond’s regional and city councillor role. Following that, a motion from Councillor Bob Chapman was presented to appoint Gail Bates, the next runner up on the city councillor election ballot, which also carried 5-3.

At the meeting of the corporate services committee the following week, councillors once again heard from residents who were furious with how the process was carried out.

“The lack of transparency, the forcing of the vote, and forcing everything through last Monday was a travesty of justice,” said former councillor Cathy Clarke.

However, councillors are making it clear that any rumours of a backroom meeting regarding these appointments are simply untrue.

“If it happened, and I doubt very much that it happened, I certainly wasn’t a part of it,” said Pidwerbecki. “I spoke with others individually, one on one, to get their views on it.”

The same was said by Chapman.

“There was no big meetings to say, ‘This is what we should do,’ and ‘OK, how are we going to get this through’ and all this sort of stuff,” he says, noting that he only received Councillor John Aker as his seconder on the motion during the meeting.

“I can tell you there was no, ‘Let’s sit down and let’s figure out how to do this,” he says. “I wrote the motion up on Bates in my seat at council. I actually wrote it up, I didn’t come in prepared.”

However, for Councillor Rick Kerr, who was on the other side of the vote along with Councillors McQuaid-England and John Shields, he says he wasn’t surprised by what happened at the meeting because he was approached ahead of time.

“I wasn’t surprised because I had heard what this proposal, or whatever you want to call it, was going to be ahead of time. I believe we all had. So none of us were surprised, it’s just that three of us were not in favour of the proposal,” he says.

“The only time I ever spoke to more than one person, there were two other councillors present and that’s when I was advised of what their intention was and my statement was I think this is a council decision, so I left it at that.”

Following the March 20 decision, several members of the public expressed intent to reach out to the Minister of Municipal Affairs to step in and investigate the appointments as having violated the Municipal Act’s caveats for transparency in these processes.

According to Conrad Spezowka, a spokesperson with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing, it should perhaps be the Ontario Ombudsman that gets the call.

“The Minister of Municipal Affairs does not have a role in filling vacancies on municipal council. If a member of the public has questions or concerns about the conduct of council, they should follow local complaint processes that have been established for the municipality,” he says in an emailed statement. “Only after local complaint processes have been exhausted, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office can be contacted to discuss municipal matters.”

For Chapman, he’s not sure what impact such an investigation would have.

“If they go to the minister and the minister decides that he wants to come and investigate, that’s what happens,” he says. “It doesn’t do anything to council because we’ve made our decisions and we’ve moved forward, the two of them have been sworn in.”