Petrolia Mayor John McCharles and the former chief administrative officer tried to meet with officials in charge of Petrolia Discovery’s loan without the board’s permission.
The historic oil field has struggled financially for years. In July 2014, the Sarnia-Lambton Business Development Corporation gave Discovery a 10-year loan to help the organization get back on strong financial footing. The money was meant to help with operations.
Then, in the summer of 2015, the foundation formed a partnership with the town, making town officials the acting general manager for the site. By August, McCharles announced at the Discovery’s annual general meeting it would be closed for the summer for repairs.
The town then brought in the county building inspector and experts from the Ontario Electrical Authority as well as the fire chief to tour the property.
By September, the county posted work orders to remedy unsafe buildings saying six were “unsalvageable” including the Blue House and the Marthaville Church.
At the time, the town “reluctantly” stepped away from managing the site saying the repairs would be too costly for the taxpayers to bear.
The Independent has learned that the CAO wrote a letter to Don Anderson of the Sarnia Lambton Business Development Corporation in March 2017, on town letterhead, asking for a meeting with himself and the mayor as well as one board member to discuss the loan even though the town had stepped away from any involvement with the foundation months before.
Business Development Corporation General Manager Don Anderson confirms the mayor and CAO wanted to meet to talk about the loan.
“They approached me, but they didn’t have the authorization from the board so the discussion didn’t go any further,” he tells The Independent. Anderson considered the move unusual at the time. “That doesn’t normally happen here.
“You just can’t go in and ask questions about some one else’s loan.”
The Independent has also learned McCharles and the board member visited Lambton County cultural officials about The Petrolia Discovery pitching for more county involvement in the heritage site.
Officials with the Discovery Foundation did not wish to comment on the town’s attempts to act on behalf of the foundation saying only neither the town, nor the board member had authorization to do so.
McCharles, in an email to The Independent said the board member instigated the discussion about the loan. “There was discussion with him about an outstanding loan with SLBDC and how, he mentioned, that was a large obstacle in their path. I agreed with him, and suggested that he approach the SLBDC to see if there was anything they, the SLBDC, could do to write the loan down or off. He said he would try that. I have never spoken to anyone at SLBDC regarding the Discovery.”
McCharles added he only introduced the board member to officials at Cultural Services at the county.
“I didn’t see it as an issue to share the contact of the cultural services we have available in Lambton County to the foundation member. Possibly, the county could help Discovery.
“The mayor and council continue to support Discovery every way we can … but refuse to put the rate payers at financial risk.
“Council and myself have never spoken on behalf of the foundation.”