McCharles threatens to end meeting as anger boils amid calls for his resignation

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About 65 people filled Petrolia’s council chambers Monday and more than that crowded into the foyer for the last council meeting. Before that, council voted to investigate one councillors actions after asking him to leave the closed door session which they talked about it. Heather Wright Photo

A citizens group is pressing Petrolia Council to release the report which lead to the resignation of the town’s CAO.
But council is standing firm, saying John Fleming’s report into how Manny Baron purchased two properties which were later used by the town for a youth/seniors centre and a storage area won’t be released. Baron bought the buildings through a numbered company and didn’t disclose to council he owned them. The town was paying rent for the storage space and utilities on the youth/senior’s centre.  When Baron resigned, the town closed the matter and said the report would not be released because it is a personnel issue.
Wade Deighton, who speaks for the newly formed Citizen’s Group says there are still a lot of unanswered questions
“The report has been suppressed or hidden depending on how you look at it and it is unclear to us, the taxpayers if there is more to the report that needs to be addressed,” he told council Monday. “Release the report in its entirety.”
Petrolia resident Lonny Cope went one step further; he wanted to know what sort of payout Baron received. Mayor John McCharles said that information would not be released adding citizens might be able to get that information in March when the annual public sector disclosure list is released. That document details the pay of public servants who make more than $100,000.
“We want to know now,” Cope countered. “Everybody (on council) should be standing down until we do a full investigation – that would be the best thing for the Town of Petrolia,” he said as the audience applauded.
The meeting boiled over with frustration, particularly when resident Gary Luckhurst read out a definition of bullying as a “repeated pattern of behavior intended to humiliate… the association of power through aggression,” he said.
Luckhurst was alluding to an investigation which has been launched into Councillor Grant Purdy’s actions.
Council voted to bring in an integrity commissioner after Purdy expressed concern about the land dealings of the CAO before his resignation.
“Council needs to take heart to what that says,” said Luckhurst to the applause of the crowd.
But Councillor Joel Field was quick to point out some of the language being used on Facebook and on the street about the situation at town hall was also bullying.
“That includes people walking around town with buttons saying ‘Should Manny Baron be fired?’ and it should go to the people in Tim Hortons that harass people.”
That led to an angry outburst which caused the mayor to threaten to stop the meeting.
“If we’re going to get civility we’ll stay, if we’re not going to get it, we won’t stay. If it gets out of line we’re going to take a recess.”
The meeting went on but there were calls from people in the crowd for McCharles to resign.
After the meeting, McCharles declined to be interviewed by The Independent.
Councillor Joel Field – who turned on his recorder on his phone while being interviewed – expressed hope that the town could move forward without the Fleming report being released.
“I think people realize we have great staff, the situation has been dealt with and we’re moving forward,” he says.
“This is a great town, we have things we need to look at and things we need to address, there is always going to be those things…I believe there is a lot of positive (things) that are not coming out.
“I believe we can move forward; we have amazing staff and we have a great story to tell.”
“There was an investigation that was very thorough and an outcome, before anything, Manny resigned, so I believe that investigation is done and it was a very clear concise investigation.”
As for the calls from residents to release the Fleming report – Field remains firm; “As a full council, we voted it should not be released – fully. Everyone voted that way.”
Since that vote both councillors Grant Purdy and Ross O’Hara have said the report should be released.

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