Petrolia councillors in power during the departure of CAO Manny Baron made sure taxpayers would never know what happened.
According to current Mayor Brad Loosley, the council of the day signed a non-disclosure document with Baron which legally binds council from releasing any details of what happened.
The non-disclosure agreement came to light Monday after resident Larry Highfield asked councillors why the report by investigator John Fleming into the circumstances around Baron’s dismissal has still not been released.
Baron left Petrolia’s top job after The Independent found he owned two buildings being used for town purposes without disclosing it to council. Documents later showed at least $5,000 was paid to Baron’s numbered company for rent.
Highfield said he represented “senior taxpayers” who wanted to know what is in the report.
Loosley explained council would be discussing the matter privately later in the evening after receiving a ruling from the Information and Privacy Commission (IPC)on a long-standing appeal on the case.
For the past two years, The Independent has worked through the Freedom of Information Act and the privacy commission to have the report, Baron’s resignation letter and his severance package released to the public. In December, the IPC ruled the report was part of Baron’s work record so under the Freedom of Information Act, it did not have to be released.
Baron’s severance package will be released to The Independent later this month.
Loosley told Highfield Monday that “none of the new councilors have seen the (Fleming) report.”
When questioned by The Independent after the meeting, Loosley revealed the previous council had signed a non-disclosure agreement with Baron to keep the document out of public view.
“There is the issue of litigation if we do release it,” says Loosley. “Legally, we’re not supposed to do that.”
But the mayor admits to being conflicted about the non-disclosure agreement. “I have to question, do I satisfy the 5,000 people and take a risk of being sued or we just hold tight,” he said.
And while the current council’s hands appear to be legally tied, Loosley says he had not considered if the town could provide some details of lessons learned from the incident and how the town’s policies have changed to ensure something similar cannot happen in the future.
“I haven’t given a lot of thought to that…but I can say, as long as I’m mayor, those things will not happen.”
The Fleming report led to Baron’s termination. He later became CAO in Mapleton on the recommendation of then mayor, John McCharles. He still holds the position today.
The OPP charged Baron with breach of public trust in March 2018. Baron participated in the Direct Accountability Program, admitting he made an administrative error and paying $1,000 to charity. On Sept. 7, 2018, the crown withdrew the charges in a brief court appearance where the details of the charge were never entered into the record.