Clock starts on three-month limit before seat could be declared vacant
For the second time in six months, Ward 2 Councillor Ron Kore has notified the Town of Pelham that he is taking an indefinite leave of absence from his duties on Pelham Town Council.
After Kore was absent for three council meetings in a row—including two that were strategically important in determining the Town’s immediate and medium-term future—the Voice requested official Town comment on his status.
Chief Administrative Officer David Cribbs responded.
“On September 28, 2020, Councillor Kore provided the Town of Pelham with the following message: ‘My biggest concern right now is the health and safety of my employees and their families, as well as my customers. That is where I need to direct my time and my energy. Because of that, I am making the decision to take a leave of absence, effective immediately. This was a difficult decision for me to make, but I know it’s the right one for all concerned.’”
Cribbs said that Kore did not provide a date of return.
Kore took his first leave of absence in April, shortly after it emerged that he had continued to attend council, and work at his franchised Sobeys store in Fonthill, while ill with COVID-19. The coronavirus positive confirmation came later, after Kore’s contagious period had ended. Multiple employees came forward to the Voice, alleging that Kore had continued to come to work displaying symptoms of a respiratory illness, and dismissing suggestions that he go home until he was well.
In recent weeks, Kore has pushed for council to resume in-person meetings at Town Hall, even as a second wave of COVID-19 loomed on the horizon. In late March, to the distress of Town staff, Kore attended a Town Council meeting while visibly ill. Three others in council chambers that evening later tested positive for COVID-19, and one, fellow councillor Mike Ciolfi, died. An official cause of death for Ciolfi has never been released.
Shortly afterward, Kore was rebuked by CAO Cribbs for alleged mistreatment of a junior Town staffer, who had arrived at the store to pick up groceries destined for delivery to local seniors. Kore then refused to speak to Fire Chief Bob Lymburner, who stopped by the store in an effort to understand the incident.
In mid September, a Fonthill business owner told the Voice that they witnessed Kore walking on the Sobeys floor without wearing a face mask. On Sept. 23, the chain’s corporate public relations department announced that a Fonthill employee had tested positive for COVID-19, and told the Voice that company rules did not allow exceptions for any Sobeys employees—management or otherwise— to avoid wearing face masks while on duty.
A Sobeys corporate public relations officer, who customarily responds to comment requests in a timely manner, did not acknowledge an email last week in which the Voice asked, among other questions, whether the company remained confident in Kore's leadership and fitness as a franchisee.
Kore has not acknowledged requests for comment from the Voice in recent months, and did not respond over the weekend when asked about his leave.
CAO Cribbs confirmed that all resident communications sent to Kore, whether by email or Canada Post, are being forwarded to his fellow Ward 2 councillor John Wink.
Kore was gone for approximately ten weeks during his first leave of absence. Asked how long a councillor may remain away before their seat is declared vacant, Cribbs referred the newspaper to Section 259 of the Municipal Act, 2001, which addresses absences by elected officials.
A reasonable reading of the statute would conclude that it creates a 12-week period from the first absence. After this period, council could choose to extend a member’s leave by a deliberate vote. Otherwise the seat is automatically declared vacant, leading to whatever process council would approve to find a successor.
Sources inside Town Hall suggest that in the event that Kore doesn’t return (12 weeks from Sept. 28 is Jan. 4) council would be disinclined to call another by-election, as it did to fill Mike Ciolfi’s Ward 1 seat. Instead, it would likely appoint a replacement to ride out the remaining two years of council’s term.
There seems little sentiment among some senior Town management in favour of Kore coming back. On condition that they not be named, two of the staffers who spoke to the Voice and were critical of Kore back in April, during his first leave, suggested last week that maybe it was time for him to depart permanently.
“You quoted him two issues back talking about the need for ‘family time’ in limiting the size of the agendas—essentially asking for less work—and now he’s doing less work for sure,” said one staffer. “You might see that as a pattern.”
“If Councillor Kore really cannot handle doing two things at once, perhaps it is time to make way for someone who can. Incredibly, he has now stepped away from his obligations to the Town and community twice in six months.”
Another senior staffer said they were unaware of Kore's leave until it was announced in an internal email.
“I am surprised about the leave but I don't know the circumstances of why he needs it. I hope he is okay health-wise. It is always good to have a full council of seven for voting, so a tie can be broken.”
Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato, asked whether a Pelham councillor had ever taken one leave of absence, much less two, during her ten-year stint as clerk, said no, to the best of her recollection, though there had been brief absences due to illness.
“Malcolm Allen would have taken a leave while a candidate in a Federal election,” said Bozzato, “followed by his resignation [when he won as MP for Welland, in 2008].”
Mayor Marvin Junkin, the target of official complaints by Kore last spring, sounded a sympathetic note.
Myself and the rest of council wish him a quick and satisfactory resolution to whatever situation caused the need for this time off
“The three-month leave of absence, is there, I imagine, in case of an unexpected family or business emergency in an elected official's life. That being said, myself and the rest of council wish him a quick and satisfactory resolution to whatever situation caused the need for this time off.”
Newly elected Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson told the Voice that via his Sobeys franchise, Kore “manages an essential service for our community, and I wish him all the best.”
Olson said that council’s priorities remain set, but are sure to be made more difficult by the pandemic.
“We remain focused on the health and safety of our residents, maintaining services and the financial imperative of reducing our debt. I fully expect that the upcoming winter will be difficult.”
No other councillor responded to the newspaper’s request for comment.