Seymour-Fagan runs afoul of integrity commissioner
For the second time in 2022, integrity commissioner Charles Harnick has found a Kawartha Lakes councillor in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and/or the Code of Conduct for municipal officials.
In a nine-page ruling, Harnick wrote that ward two councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan contravened section 5 (1) (b) and (c) of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and hence violated section 6.1 (c) of the city Code of Conduct.
After receiving the report from Harnick and lead investigator Ellen Fry, council decided to penalize Seymour-Fagan for her failure to declare a pecuniary interest in meetings of both the Kawartha Lakes Planning Committee on July 14, 2021 and October 6, 2021 and a Kawartha Lakes council meeting on October 19, 2021.
Council has decided to dock Seymour-Fagan two weeks pay as discipline for her code violations.
Jodi Harper, owner of a property in Bobcaygeon, filed the complaint against the Bobcaygeon area councillor with the integrity commission on January 10, 2022.
Harper originally applied to Kawartha Lakes council “for a zoning amendment to expand permissible uses of her property (located .3 kilometers from a restaurant owned by Seymour- Fagan) to open a business in Bobcaygeon. The proposed uses to be added to the zoning of the property as stated in the application included a bruncheonette, bed and breakfast, bakery, bistro, coffee house, diner, snack bar and tea room.”
Harper indicated that a key element in her zoning amendment application was to change the total number of parking spaces required for the business to five, a decrease from the eight parking spaces required by the zoning by-law. She indicated that to require eight parking spaces would mean the project was not feasible and would necessitate the removal of several trees.
When the request from Harper was first heard at the Kawartha Lakes Planning Committee meeting on July 14, 2021, the chair asked if any member of the committee had a pecuniary interest.
Councillor Seymour-Fagan stated that “she owned a restaurant in Bobcaygeon.”
When asked by the chair if she was declaring a pecuniary interest, Seymour-Fagan initially said that “she didn’t know if she had a pecuniary interest.” The chair indicated that “a declaration of pecuniary interest was up to her to determine.”
According to the information gathered by Fry, Seymour-Fagan “then indicated she wanted committee members to know about her business but was not declaring a pecuniary interest because the proposed bruncheonette would not affect her business, and she did not care whether or not Ms. Harper’s application was approved.”
Seymour-Fagan participated in the discussion of Harper’s application, seconded the motion to refer back to staff and voted on the motion. The vote was a show of hands rather than a recorded vote and Councillor Seymour-Fagan voted in favour of the motion.
The application was again considered by the Planning Advisory Committee on October 6, 2021.
At the Oct. 6 committee meeting a report was provided by the Kawartha Lakes Planning officer Ian Walker recommending that the application be approved with five rather than eight parking spots. Walker indicated that only two of the seven members of the public who had contacted the city about Harper’s request opposed the plan, and neither of the objectors focused on the issue of parking.
A discussion then began on the zoning request. Seymour-Fagan again did not declare a pecuniary interest. According to the ombudsman’s report, “(Seymour-Fagan) raised the issue concerning the number of parking spaces and participated in the ensuing discussion. The discussion culminated in a motion by the mayor to recommend approval of the application with eight spaces rather than the five. Seymour-Fagan voted in favour of the recommendation.”
The issue came back to council for a formal approval on Oct. 19.
“Councillor Seymour-Fagan was present at the October 19 council meeting,” Fry said. “She did not declare any pecuniary interest. The committee recommendation to approve the application with eight parking spots rather than five was approved by council. Councillor Seymour-Fagan voted in favour of the recommendation.”
Council’s decision on the application is currently being appealed by Harper to the Ontario Land Tribunal.
After Harper filed the complaint and a five-month investigation was undertaken by the ombudsman’s office, Fry determined that Seymour-Fagan’s restaurant “would likely be in competition with Ms. Harper’s bruncheonette given the fact that the two restaurants would be near each other, have breakfast areas of the same size, both serve during the breakfast timeframe and both could potentially serve during the lunch/dinner timeframe. Accordingly, it is clear that Councillor Seymour-Fagan had a pecuniary interest in the application.”
“Councillor Seymour-Fagan could have sought the advice of the Integrity Commissioner on her obligations concerning any pecuniary interests under the Code of Conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. She did not do so,” Fry said.
“Councillor Seymour-Fagan had ample time to seek such advice prior to the July 14, 2021 meeting, since she indicated she was aware for about a year and a half that Ms. Harper would be making a zoning application. She also had ample time to seek such advice between the July 14, 2021 meeting when the possibility of pecuniary interest was raised, and the October 6, 2021 meeting,” Fry said.
Seymour-Fagan volunteered to Fry that “she was not fully familiar with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, and if she were more familiar with it, she might have behaved differently. She also expressed the view that it might have been better if she simply stayed silent.”
Seymour-Fagan now joins ward six councillor Ron Ashmore as Kawartha Lakes officials who have been investigated and found in violation of municipal rules by the Kawartha Lakes ombudsman in 2022. Both Ashmore and Seymour-Fagan have been found in violation of the Code of Conduct for municipal officials, while only Seymour-Fagan has been found in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.