Skip to content

PELHAM | Hidden council meeting not justified: Ombudsman

Bizarre Kore comment may have violated Code of Conduct In a report presented at Pelham’s June 20 Town Council meeting, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office found that council overstepped its boundaries by holding a closed meeting regarding the local airpor

Bizarre Kore comment may have violated Code of Conduct

In a report presented at Pelham’s June 20 Town Council meeting, the Ontario Ombudsman’s office found that council overstepped its boundaries by holding a closed meeting regarding the local airport over a year ago.

The meeting, ostensibly to discuss development opportunities regarding the Niagara Central Dorothy Rungeling Airport, was closed to the public in April 2021, resulting in a citizen complaint.

“Council for the Town of Pelham contravened the requirements of section 239(4)(a) of the Municipal Act, 2001, on April 19, 2021, by failing to state by resolution the general nature of the matters to be considered in camera,” the report from the office of Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dube read.

“In camera” is the procedural description for a meeting that is closed to the public, and where electronic recordings of the gathering are not later shared for public consumption. Such meetings are usually convened only for personnel matters, specific real estate negotiations, and a limited list of other legal issues.

Dube recommended that Pelham council “be vigilant in adhering to their individual and collective obligation to ensure that council complies with its responsibilities under the Municipal Act … and its own procedure by-law.”

Ward 1 Councillor Wayne Olson moved a motion to waive all confidentiality matters surrounding the meeting, and release its content to the public.

“By keeping this as a confidential matter … it would only lead to more speculation, probably wrongly,” Olson said.

However, Ward 3 Councillor Lisa Haun — who is Pelham’s representative on the airport commission and who originally insisted that the meeting be held out of public view — did not want the information posted for public access.

“The only net benefit would be to have a ‘gotcha’ moment, so that’s not really good teamwork on behalf of council to try and pick apart other team members,” Haun said. “Hopefully that’s not the intention.”

Haun, joined only by ally Marianne Stewart, voted to deny public access to the information. The motion passed anyway, 5-2.

“I think all of us ran on the premise of transparency,” Ward 2 Councillor John Wink said. “It was pointed out by the Ombudsman that we made a mistake.”

Video of the meeting was not preserved, but an audio recording and a transcript of the session, plus the Ombudsman’s report, are now available for the public to access on the Town’s website.

I think all of us ran on the premise of transparency

Additionally, last week the Voice filed a Freedom of Information request to obtain documents pertaining to Haun’s communications with the Clerk’s office over the rationale for keeping the meeting out of public view. Look for further coverage on this topic in next week’s issue.

Haun slams the Voice over her lobbying for a developer

After that defeat, Haun launched a blistering attack on the Voice, saying the newspaper created “alarmist false narratives” and engaged in “fear and intimidation” over her handling of a contentious zoning bylaw for a new East Fonthill subdivision, Summersides Village, a $100 million dollar project that will see 70-plus homes constructed east of Station Street.

At council’s previous meeting, Haun led an effort to alter established planning policy in order to allow a developer who did not yet actually own land they wished to build on to speak to council. The developer objected to elements of Summersides Village, a project which followed applicable planning rules for some two years, during which time the public—including the objecting developer—had been free to register their comments and concerns with Town planning staff.

Given the would-be developer’s belated request to make its presentation, a suspension of council’s procedural rules would have been required to permit such an appearance. However, such a serious change in procedure requires a super-majority—at least five of seven votes—not just a simple majority, to approve it.

Therefore, when Haun ally Councillor Ron Kore’s motion came to a vote to allow a representative from the non-land-owning, would-be developer, SAW Custom Homes, to speak, it was defeated despite the predictable political bloc of Haun, Kore, Stewart and Bob Hildebrandt voting in its favour, as Olson, Junkin, and Wink voted against.

Haun did not address the procedural rules that actually stymied her attempt to get the would-be developer in front of council, instead taking issue with the Voice’s reporting, and with changes to the Summersides Village plan.

“Our local tabloid has chosen to create alarmist false narratives, intentionally spreading misinformation, which has sadly become common behaviour, disrespecting the intelligence of our residents in the process,” Haun read from a prepared text. “Asking for clarification for a developer to have the opportunity to speak to council should be embraced, as the record clearly reflects that the prospective development plan has indeed been altered from what the public was presented. Our Director of Planning has indeed commented twice that there has been a plan change, yet this local tabloid would have you believe that councillors who recognize this change should be ridiculed and harassed. It is indeed the role of a councillor to make sure that the business of the Town is conducted fairly, regardless of the imposed fear and intimidation.”

However, Pelham’s Director of Community Planning and Development Barb Wiens noted that while the required public notice boards developers place on site before starting construction often deviate somewhat from eventually approved plans, the public was still notified of all changes to the Summersides Village project— in this case to utilize two roadways east and parallel to Station Street, streets which were also contained in the East Fonthill Master Plan, published nearly a decade ago in 2013.

In the Voice’s previous reporting, the newspaper reached out for comment from Councillor Haun regarding any personal or professional connections with the would-be developer that may have influenced her lobbying. Haun neither replied to nor acknowledged our request.

In a further twist, another motivation for Haun and Kore’s efforts emerged in the form of advocating for a current property owner at the corner of Station and Summersides, on land historically zoned as agricultural.

“The people that own that land have owned it for 80 years,” Kore said. “They have a viable business there. They have brothers who work there every day.”

While this parcel of land remains private, the contention appears to come from the possibility that if it is ever sold, the two roadways could join with Summersides at that time. Until this unknown and possibly fictive future, the roadways will loop in the form of a cul-de-sac from Port Robinson Road.

Wiens stressed that the property owner is free to keep their business in place as long as they want, but with the changing nature of the neighbourhood to a medium-density residential area, the business may be impacted over time.

In the end, council eventually affirmed its earlier decision to approve the Summersides Village subdivision, thus averting what would almost certainly have been a losing battle in front of the Ontario Land Tribunal. Haun and Kore were the only no-votes.

MCC parking upgrades unlikely this year

Council finally voted to receive a long-awaited municipal parking study from consultant RV Anderson, but not before discussion over whether there was enough time and money to install auxiliary gravel parking at the community centre before this winter’s slate of hockey tournaments. The short answer: No.

While Public Works Director Jason Marr said the work itself could be done in a couple of weeks, a topographical survey is needed first. And this is before the matter of skyrocketing inflation. While an earlier price tag was around $75,000 for the temporary lot, almost all agreed these costs will be higher now. Treasurer Teresa Quinlin-Murphy said no such funds are budgeted for this year, and the cash would need to come out of reserves.

“We’re spending money we don’t have,” Mayor Marvin Junkin said, adding that such conduct was what got the Town in financial deep water during the previous council’s time in office.

While the matter will likely be deferred to the next capital budget, staff still plan to report back with MCC topographical surveys for council’s Aug. 22 meeting.

Tensions on display

Microaggressions among members of council were on display for the last item of the meeting, Junkin’s motion to have staff look into ways to honour late Pelham Olympian Jane Haist.

Because the motion came from the Mayor, he had to relinquish his meeting chair to the Deputy Mayor, which position rotates and which is currently held by Councillor Ron Kore.

Junkin asked Kore if he was “ready to step in as Deputy Mayor.”

Kore replied sardonically, “I don’t think the shoes are that big.”

The comment provoked an instant reaction from Haun, who appeared to understand immediately its insulting nature, and finding it particularly humorous.

Councillor Lisa Haun reacts to Councillor Ron Kore's remark regarding filling the Mayor's shoes. TOWN OF PELHAM / YOU TUBE

Under the Town of Pelham’s Code of Conduct, members of council are prohibited from making disparaging remarks about each other. Under “General Obligations,” Sec. 4.1(h), councillors must “refrain from making disparaging comments about another Member or unfounded accusations about the motives of another Member.”

Due to crosstalk in the Zoom session, the Mayor appeared not to hear Kore’s remark, something he confirmed when later asked for comment.

“Although I did not hear the councillor’s comment,” Junkin told the Voice, “I have had a resident who was watching the live-stream contact me by phone to tell me about [Kore’s] remarks and how disgusted they were to hear these comments directed to me. I plan on reviewing the recording in the near future to hear the comments myself. The individual didn’t mention any reaction from any other councillor. If the remarks were stated with malice, I would be disappointed, to say the least.”

By press time, the Voice had been contacted by three residents looking for guidance on how to file a complaint about Kore’s comment with the Town’s Integrity Commissioner, the official responsible for investigating alleged Code of Conduct violations. In each case the newspaper referred the resident to Pelham Town Hall.

After Junkin presented his motion and Kore had passed leadership of the meeting back to the Mayor, Kore said, “Just make sure [this exchange is] in the paper.”

Neither Kore nor Haun responded to Voice requests for comment on Kore’s remark, nor whether they planned to extend apologies to the Mayor.

With files from Dave Burket and John Chick.