Another leak of sensitive, confidential information at Norfolk council has county staff preparing the groundwork for an investigation by the municipality’s integrity commissioner.
Because the inquiry could involve all of council, this may be the first time in nearly three years when Norfolk’s designated integrity commissioner – the Toronto law firm of Aird & Berlis – will have to turn over the file to an independent, third-party investigator.
At issue is an apparent leak of confidential information to an as-yet unnamed member of the community regarding the recent sale of the former hub land in Simcoe.
“It seems to be a recurring theme,” Mayor Kristal Chopp said during the June 8 council meeting, which was convened as a teleconference due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really a problem when it involves a multi-million-dollar transaction.”
Word of the breach was presented to council in a 10-page report that staff deemed private-and-confidential.
At Chopp’s urging, council agreed there was nothing in the report that met the criteria for an in-camera session so it was discussed as a public item. CAO Jason Burgess – author of the report – said he designated it private-and-confidential due to the potential for litigation regarding the 24-acre parcel at the corner of Ireland Road and Decou Road in Simcoe.
Council wants to get to the bottom of the in-camera leaks because the leaks are interfering with the municipality’s ability to do business. Haldimand-Norfolk MPP Toby Barrett recently said he was reluctant to share a confidential appraisal regarding the proposed sale of the public beach in Normandale with a member of Norfolk council due to chronic leaks of sensitive information at Governor Simcoe Square.
Until this spring, an integrity complaint would be filed with Aird & Berlis, holder of the county contract for integrity oversight.
However, the recent revelation that Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin is a first cousin of Aird & Berlis partner N. Jane Pepino – a specialist in municipal and planning law – has complicated the firm’s relationship with the county.
In response to the perceived conflict-of-interest, council recently agreed that integrity investigations involving Martin or all of council should be diverted to a qualified third-party other than Aird & Berlis.
At the June 8 meeting, county solicitor Paula Boutis said the hub complaint will have to be referred to Aird & Berlis before a course of action is determined. Burgess will discuss the way forward with the law firm in time for an update at the June 15 council meeting.
Even though Burgess’s report was discussed in open session, concerns remain over the release of the document due to issues related to the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
There was general agreement that the document should be released to the public. However, deputy clerk Kevin Klingenberg, Norfolk’s freedom of information officer, wants to review the report for personal contact information that the municipality – by law – is forbidden from sharing.
That said, the document – if released – will likely contain the name of the private citizen who’s been made privy to in-camera information.
“This individual doesn’t get confidentiality,” Martin said. “They’re not one of us. Now we’re just being shady.”