‘Ottawa’ Integrity Commissioner: ‘It Should be Dealt with Severely’
What started as a proposed development deal for a 16-acre plot of prime town-owned land in Carleton Place ended Tuesday with an integrity commissioner’s ruling Mayor Louis Antonakos should be docked 90 days’ pay, the maximum penalty allowed, for disclosing confidential council information to a local developer.
Integrity commissioner Robert Swayze took the unusual step of travelling to Carleton Place to deliver his ruling in person, calling the breach of in-camera council deliberations “the most egregious disclosure of confidential information I have ever encountered in nine years serving as an integrity commissioner.”
The initial complaint was filed Feb. 23 by local developer Volundur (Wally) Thorbjornsson, a former associate of Antonakos in his business enterprise in property management, and the alleged recipient of information that would allow him to “benefit from knowledge respecting bidding on the sale of municipal property or assets,” in contravention of council’s code of conduct.
Swayze ruled Antonakos disclosed confidential 2012 council discussions around the town-owned industrial land on Hooper Street. Thorbjornsson had submitted a proposal to council to develop the land into a retail store and mixed residential and commercial uses that went against the town’s official plan, thus requiring council approval.
One member of that previous council on Tuesday described the deal as “a real dog’s breakfast, right from the start.”
Staff advised against the development (the Hooper Street land remains vacant).
Swayze’s investigation included interviews of “many witnesses,” from councillors and town staff to members of the public, including Thorbjornsson and former mayor Paul Dulmage.
Antonakos “refused to be interviewed,” Swayze said, and in email correspondence “(repeatedly) denied ever playing any tapes.”
Tuesday’s council meeting was moved to a second-floor auditorium to accommodate the several hundred residents who attended.
Thorbjornsson also worked closely with then-councillor Antonakos on the 2014 election campaign, which Antonakos won by 262 votes over incumbent Wendy LeBlanc.
Swayze dismissed claims made in the complaint that Antonakos would secretly record in-camera council sessions and use the confidential information in a “smear campaign” against LeBlanc.
Thorbjornsson further alleged the confidential information was used as “bartering chips”, where Antonakos would play recordings to influential property developers in trade for election support.
The integrity commissioner interviewed four people who admitted being a part of “steak nights” where, Thorbjornsson said, the recordings were played on Antonakos’s BlackBerry device. Some of those meetings included Dulmage, who joined the campaign in an advisory role, and gave corroborating testimony.
“All of the witnesses I interviewed who attended closed sessions with Mr. Antonakos present, recall on many occasions, his BlackBerry device openly displayed on the table,” Swayze included in his report.
Swayze was “unable to corroborate” another allegation Antonakos played tapes of an earlier in-camera session to Thorbjornsson, discussing an offer to purchase downtown lands that “was submitted on behalf of a group of investors, including then-councillor Antonakos.”
However, the integrity commissioner said, “none of these meetings were contrary to the law.”
Swayze said he believed Thorbjornsson and Dulmage “in respect to the Hooper Street incident,” and ruled, “In my opinion, it should be dealt with severely.”