Norfolk council has apologized to the county’s top administrator after an independent third-party review concluded there was nothing improper about his relationship with a Port Dover developer.
The review exonerated CAO Jason Burgess of any wrong-doing, the county said in a news release.
“Our CAO followed all the county’s policies and procedures related to this matter,” Mayor Kristal Chopp said. “Unfortunately, rumours and misinformation – often fuelled by social media – confused the situation, negatively impacting Mr. Burgess, county staff and the county’s reputation.
“As directed by council, we wish to offer a sincere apology to Mr. Burgess and would like to assure the community that this council has full confidence in our CAO and his team. We look forward to putting this unfortunate matter behind us.”
The developer in question is Blair McKeil, a partner in Breakwater Investments. McKeil had two ambitious development applications in front on Norfolk council when the Burgess review was ordered in November.
When council approved the review last fall, it also suspended consideration of McKeil’s development applications in Port Dover and along the lakeshore south of Vittoria.
By virtue of the delay, Norfolk County lost control of McKeil’s application to build a 375-unit condominium project on Lynn Street and Chapman Street East in Port Dover in the area of the former Gamble Shipyard.
The deadline for Norfolk to process that application under the Planning Act came and went due to the third-party investigation. As a result, the application has been referred to the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal (LPAT) – the successor body to the Ontario Municipal Board – for a final decision.
At the request of the Port Dover Waterfront Preservation Association, Norfolk County was negotiating public waterfront access to the shipyard development when council opted for the review. With the application’s referral to LPAT for a final decision, the municipality lost what leverage it had over the question.
“Unfortunately, that is the case,” Blair McKeil, principal of Breakwater Investments, said on March 18. “I’ve lost trust in the process. I’m not a fool. But I got played like a fool.
“Why would I want to work with someone who doesn’t want to work with me? Staff has been fine. We were nearly there. It’s been council.”
McKeil added that council’s apology to Burgess is a positive gesture. McKeil said he and his family would appreciate a similar apology due to the county associating them with a baseless suggestion of wrong-doing.
The third-party review was conducted by Lisa Bonato, a lawyer with LMB Investigations of Toronto.
According to the county news release, Bonato concluded that Burgess did not breach the conflict-of-interest provisions of Norfolk’s code of conduct; did not breach his employment agreement with the county, specifically the duty-of-loyalty provision; and did not breach common law principles of employment law.
Bonato also found that Burgess did not breach his fiduciary responsibility as a senior employee of the municipal corporation.