(October 23 5pm) A Bracebridge court judge has ruled Township of Muskoka Lakes Councillor Sandy Currie did not violate municipal conflict of interest rules when voting on a portion of a bylaw opposed by the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA).
Resident Greg Knight had argued that Currie voting in agreement with the MLA’s concerns was a conflict as Currie is also a director of the MLA. In delivering the ruling today, Justice T.M Wood wrote, “The Muskoka Lakes Association has no monetary connection or contract with the Township. Its members will not gain or lose financially as a result of either the respondent’s [Currie’s] participation or votes on the sewage set back issue or the payment of a $125 filing fee by the Association.” The filing fee is the fee the Association is paying to have its concerns heard against the Township at the Ontario Municipal Board.
Knight and Currie have 30 days from today’s decision to file for costs.
You can read the entire court decision by clicking here: CurrieDecision
(October 19 11pm BRACEBRIDGE UPDATE) The judge at Bracebridge court will release at a later date his decision on Greg Knight vs Sandy Currie, in which Knight contends Currie had a conflict of interest during votes at the Council table relating to the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA).
While hearing statements from both sides, the judge suggested strongly that the case to argue pecuniary interest, either direct or indirect, was not strong enough, but that it was clear Currie has a bias toward advancing the goals of the MLA organization of which he is a director (as he ran with being a director as part of his platform). Currie’s lawyer also questioned whether Knight had filed his complaint within the right time frame.
The hearing began at 4pm and adjourned at 4:55pm. There’s no word on the court’s decision will be delivered.
(August 31 UPDATE BRACEBRIDGE) October 19 will be the new date for a court hearing in to whether Township of Muskoka Lakes Councillor Sandy Currie violated municipal conflict of interest rules.
His accuser, Muskoka Lakes resident Greg Knight, appeared in court today along with Currie’s lawyer, Patricia McLean, to ask the Court for an Order to ensure the hearing would be heard at the next available court application date of October 19. The order was granted. Currie was not present in the court.
Knight charges Currie should have declared an indirect conflict while voting in Council on a matter of concern to the Muskoka Lakes Association, of which Currie is Director. The article below provides details of Knight’s complaint.
Muskoka Lakes Councillor accused of Conflict of Interest
(June 2 PORT CARLING) Muskoka Lakes Councillor Sandy Currie has a court date to answer charges he may have an undisclosed conflict at the Township Council table.
Conflict of interest allegations were filed last Thursday (May 28, 2015) to the Ontario Superior Court of Justice by Torrance resident Greg Knight. The filing sets a hearing date of August 31 in Bracebridge court. Download PDF to read the filed Court Notice of Application May 28.
“Councillor Currie remains a controlling mind of two different special interest groups, despite having been elected to represent the best interests of the community generally,” asserts Knight (referring to the Muskoka Lakes Association (MLA) and the Moon River Property Owners’ Association (MRPOA)). “Others in the community have told me they think he’s acting in a manner that’s not appropriate.”
The document claims Currie should have declared an indirect conflict while voting in Council on a matter of concern to the MLA, of which Currie is a director. The MLA is taking the Township to the Ontario Municipal Board (OMB) over the issue of septic setbacks*. Previous directors of the MLA who campaigned for Township office, including Councillor Phil Harding, have stepped off the association’s board upon being elected to Council. Currie was reinstated in July 2014 for another term on the MLA board of directors and was elected to municipal Council in October 2014.
Currie’s loyalties divided, charges Knight
Knight says he took legal action after Currie did not respond to his emails raising his concern over the potential for conflict. “He breached the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act three times, and I warned him about it,” alleges Knight. “ Then he did it a fourth time. This is an issue of having divided loyalties. The law is clear — if you are going to represent the best interests of the municipality you cannot, at any time, have divided loyalties.”
Knight sent emails to Currie, the MLA, and the Township Clerk on May 19 noting that Currie had declared an interest at the beginning of a Planning Committee of the Whole meeting on Friday, May 16, and then retracted that declaration when the item came up on the agenda. In his email, Knight notes he had previously asked Currie in writing for a reason for his decision to vote repeatedly without declaring an interest – and had warned him before the May 16 meeting that if Currie continued to ignore him, he would bring an application to the courts.
Knight claims Currie has never responded to him. Currie is the Township Councillor for Ward A, the same Ward Knight lives in.
Muskoka News Watch contacted the Township and Councillor Currie on Friday for a response on the court filing. CAO Clayton Harris responded that the Township had not yet had a chance to review the material. He confirmed again today that the Township is still waiting to speak with the Township insurer before being able to comment further.
There has been no response from Councillor Currie.
While the Township is waiting to consult with its insurer, Knight say he thinks Currie will be on his own when it comes to covering legal fees, not the Township.
“If I am wrong, I expect Mr. Currie will look to me for costs personally, not the Township,” continues Knight. “I’m willing to risk it. Mr. Currie’s behaviour is inexcusable.”
In the only other conflict of interest case against a councillor in recent history of the municipality (a situation that occurred over ten years ago), the Councillor had to pay his own legal fees. That case was reportedly dropped before it went to a hearing and the Councillor was reimbursed by Township for his costs.
Mayor Don Furniss confirms this has been past practice for Councillors – to defend at their cost in the case of Conflict of Interest charges, and for the Township to reimburse those costs when a Councillor is found not guilty.
What if a Councillor is found guilty under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act? According to the court document filed, Knight is seeking:
- a move to declare Currie’s seat on Council vacant
- an order disqualifying him from being on Council for seven years
- a declaration that Currie has violated the act, costs of the action; and,
- other remedies the Court may permit.
The is the second time the first-term Councillor has found himself in hot water this year. Council passed a resolution in April asking that he apologize for actions, including suggesting a boycott of two Port Carling businesses owned by fellow Councillors.
*Note: The MLA appealed on the basis that the new Township zoning bylaw fails to establish a 100-foot setback from the waters’ edge for septic systems, something the MLA would like to see included in the bylaw that would provide more setback protection than is presently required under the Ontario Building Code. The MLA also wants shoreline buffers enforced in all zones.
April 26, 2015, MNW: Currie apologizes for actions
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