Petrolia CAO resigns; councillor faces investigation for conduct

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Petrolia CAO Manny Baron presents Mayor John McCharles with a new chain of office during Monday’s council meeting. Baron suggested the chain was likely one of the nicest in Lambton County and would be worn “by the best mayor" in August 2016. Heather Wright Photo

Petrolia’s chief administrative officer has resigned and a councillor who spoke out against some questionable practices is facing a date with an Integrity Commissioner.
Council accepted Manny Baron’s resignation after nearly a two-hour in camera session Monday where councillors heard from Investigator John Fleming.
Fleming was called in after The Independent reported the CAO owned two buildings being used for town purposes.
The town was paying rent for a storage building on 395 Fletcher St. It was paying utilities on The Rec Room Youth and Seniors Centre on Robert St.
Baron didn’t reveal to council he owned the buildings through a numbered company. At one point, he told councillors Developer Horst Richter owned 395 Fletcher even though he had owned it for 12 days.
Mayor John McCharles read out a news release after the closed session, listing the items Baron helped the town achieve including the rebuilding of Petrolia Line and the replacement of the waste water treatment plant.
“We appreciate his contributions to the town in this regard and wish him well. I will not be commenting on the circumstances that led to his resignation.” he added.
The investigator told The Independent his report into Baron’s action would not be released.
In an interview after council, Mayor John McCharles told The Independent the report was through but won’t be released to the public because it was a personnel issue. “The investigation is complete as far as the town is concerned.”
Deputy Clerk Mandi Pearson will be the Interim CAO while Tim L. Dobbie Consulting Ltd. of Burlington searches for a new CAO. It’s not clear how long that will take.
While the search goes on, another investigator has been called in. Also after the private session, Councillor Mary-Pat Gleeson read out a motion saying there “was a concern for a continued pattern of behavior” and that “a councillor” had not followed the Code of Conduct and possibly Bill 168. Gleeson, and Councillors Tim Brown, Joel Field, Liz Welsh and Mayor John McCharles all voted in favour of a motion to bring in the Integrity Commissioner from Amberley Gavel to review the complaint.
Councillor Ross O’Hara voted against the motion.

Councillor Grant Purdy abstained from the vote.
The name of the councillor was not released. McCharles said it would be up to the Integrity Commissioner to decide if that should be released.
However when The Independent asked Purdy why he abstained from that particular vote, he confirmed he had a conflict with the motion.
Purdy has been outspoken about the allegations surrounding the town’s CAO, engaging citizens on social media and vowing to address concerns. He also stated at one point he felt there may need to be an audit of the town’s books in the wake of the controversy.
The town’s Code of Conduct is given to councillors when they are first elected. It includes rules which preclude politicians from taking gifts or money for political favours or benefiting personally or financially from the office.
Councillors are also bound by rules of confidentiality.
They are banned from speaking about the private in camera meetings held by council.
Petrolia’s Code reads “No member of council shall disclose the content of a matter that has been discussed at or the substance of deliberations of an in camera meeting, except for content that has been authorized by council… types of content that a member of council must keep confidential under this section includes but is not limited to items under litigation, negotiation or personnel matters… or information deemed to be personal information under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
Purdy becomes the first official in Petrolia to be examined under the Code of Conduct rules in recent memory.
In Lambton County, only Sarnia Mayor Mike Bradley has been fined and suspended after being found guilty of harassing that city’s senior administrative staff.

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