Newmarket code of conduct complaint against Regional Councillor John Taylor dismissed
Feb. 7, 2015
By Chris Simon
A code of conduct complaint launched against Newmarket Regional Councillor John Taylor has been dismissed.
Independent integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig said there’s no reason to go forward with a full-blown investigation - after reviewing evidence and speaking to town CAO Bob Shelton, Taylor and the complainant, former Ward 7 councillor candidate John Blommesteyn - in a ruling released Feb. 4.
However, to tighten up the town’s code, Craig recommends less ‘blurry’ wording and clarification of acceptable uses of town email addresses.
“It appears to me the matter has reached the level of Code complaint because of the absence of policy guidelines and directive and not because of a willful desire to improperly use town resources,” she said in the ruling.
“I do recommend that the town develop clear and enforcable policy rules to ensure that members of council do not directly or indirectly manage money or solicit donations in relation to charitable organizations’ fundraising.”
Blommesteyn accused Taylor and Taylor’s executive assistant of using town resources to aid a charitable organization, the Newmarket Children’s Dream Foundation.
Taylor is one of the founders of the charity. Canada Revenue Agency Registered Charity Information returns for 2012 and 2013 show the foundation used the town’s telephone number and Taylor’s municipally hosted email address on the forms.
Changes have been made to the charity’s website, in an effort to provide distance from the municipality. A letter notifying Taylor of the foundation’s CRA registration, sent to the town hall mailing address in June 2012, was recently removed.
Taylor’s personal email address and cellphone number are now listed on the site, instead of town-funded versions.
And Taylor’s assistant wants to volunteer for the organization outside of office hours, Craig said.
Taylor has referred to the complaint as “politically motivated” by Blommesteyn and his wife, former councillor Maddie Di Muccio. Di Muccio made a similar complaint to Shelton in 2013.
“Blommesteyn and his wife ... are wasting taxpayers’ dollars and staff time and distracting council from the work that needs to be done,” Taylor said, admitting the code needs revision.
“They need to let go of their anger and move on. If the people of Newmarket wanted constant controversy and personal attacks, I suspect they would have elected (them) late last year. I don’t think we’re at a resolution yet, but I don’t think the complaint had merit to begin with.”
Taylor also says Blommesteyn has already threatened to file a new but related code complaint with the town, though Blommesteyn denies that decision has been made.
“It is clear in every way how it is to proceed. I have worked hard for many years as a volunteer and now I am being dragged through the mud for volunteering as if it were a game,” Taylor said.
“I am especially upset that one of the things I am most proud of - forming a charity to build playgrounds in Newmarket - is being used against me to make me look bad. In the process, the charity and volunteers are being negatively affected. The use of an integrity commissioner is expensive and it has significant implications for everybody. To use an expensive process for political reasons is wrong. Taxpayers are paying the price.”
Many elected officials participate in similar charitable initiatives throughout York Region and the Greater Toronto Area, Taylor said.
The code prohibits council members from exercising influence of office for any purpose other than official duties, giving preferential treatment to an organization in which they have a pecuniary interest or using town property or employees for personal gain or private endeavour.
“I don’t have to accept a badly written bylaw wielded only when it is politically expedient to do so,” Blommesteyn said. “I will keep pushing until council finally agrees to fix the deficiencies within the code, in order to protect Newmarket residents from corruption and influence peddling. I may proceed with making a follow up complaint if I think that there may be a chance of proceeding with such an investigation. (Craig) was quite critical of the town’s policies and is very clear in her advice that changes are needed. Taylor’s lack of guilt is (as) much due to the fact that deficiencies in the code exist.”
Craig says charitable organizations often rely on the name recognition of municipal politicians to add credibility to their causes.
“The importance and impact to the Newmarket community of a charity like Children’s Dream and the fundraising efforts therein, should not be diminished by the need for ramped up accountability rules for elected officials,” she said.
“As leaders of municipal communities, elected members of Council bring important focus to worthy endeavours. With the appropriate rules to ensure arm’s length involvement, members of municipal councils may use their name recognition to support community events. This is a recognized practice in several municipalities.”
A review of the code is currently underway.