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Kawartha Lakes councillor has pay suspended for two weeks following Integrity Commissioner report

DAN CEARNS, The Standard

KAWARTHA LAKES: The City of Kawartha Lakes is sanctioning Ward 2 Councillor Kathleen Seymour-Fagan for not disclosing a conflict of interest during discussions on a zoning application for a bruncheonette.

At a meeting on Tuesday, May 17th, after a closed session discussion on an Integrity Commissioner’s report on the incident, councillors voted to have the Ward 2 Councillor’s pay suspended, for a two-week period, “commencing June 12th.”

According to Integrity Commissioner Charles Harnick’s report, the investigation began after Jodi Harper filed a complaint against the Councillor, alleging the councillor “had a conflict of interest” in her zoning application and “did not behave appropriately, concerning this alleged conflict of interest, in the meetings of the Kawartha Lakes Planning Advisory Committee, on July 14th, 2021 and October 6th, 2021 and the Kawartha Lakes Council meeting of October 19th, 2021.”

The report states, “Ms. Harper applied to Kawartha Lakes Council for a zoning amendment, to expand permissible uses of her property, 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.”

During their discussions, the Integrity Commissioner wrote, “Councillor Seymour-Fagan indicate[d] that prior to the July 14th meeting, she received comments from residents expressing concern about the number of parking spaces required for Ms. Harper’s business.” However, Mr. Harnick stated, “although she indicated, she received concerns about parking prior to the July 14th meeting, Councillor Seymour-Fagan did not raise any issue concerning parking at the meeting.”

When it came to the matter of the potential conflict of interest, Mr. Harnick noted, “at the beginning of the July 14th Committee meeting, when the Chair asked for any declarations of pecuniary interest, Councillor Seymour-Fagan stated she owns a restaurant in Bobcaygeon. When asked by the Chair whether she was declaring a pecuniary interest, Councillor Seymour-Fagan initially said she didn’t know if she had a pecuniary interest. The Chair indicated. that issue was up to her to determine.”

“Councillor 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 didn’t care whether or not Ms. Harper’s application was approved,” the report read.

Mr. Harnick stated, the Councillor, again, did not declare a pecuniary interest during an October 6th Planning Advisory Committee meeting.

The Integrity Commissioner added, the Ward 2 Councillor “raised an issue concerning the number of parking spaces and participated in the ensuing discussion” at that meeting.

“The discussion culminated in a motion by the Mayor, to recommend approval of the application with eight parking spaces rather than five. There was a vote by show of hands rather than a recorded vote. Councillor Seymour-Fagan voted in favour of the motion,” the report read. “Councillor Seymour-Fagan was present at the October 19th Council meeting. She did not declare any pecuniary interest. The Committee’s recommendation, to approve the application with eight parking spaces rather than five, was approved by Council. The vote was by a show of hands rather than a recorded vote. Councillor Seymour-Fagan voted in favour of the recommendation. At the October 19th Council meeting, Ms. Harper indicated, it would be possible to go ahead with the project on the basis of eight parking spaces. After the meeting, she realized the applicable regulations meant this was not feasible. Council’s decision on Ms. Harper’s application is presently being appealed by Ms. Harper to the Ontario Land Tribunal.”

In his analysis portion of the report, Mr. Harnick stated, the Councillor owns a business in Bobcaygeon, titled Kawartha Coffee Company and El Patio. He found, “Councillor Seymour-Fagan’s restaurant would likely be in competition with Ms. Harper’s bruncheonette, given the fact the two restaurants would be near each other, have coffee/breakfast areas of similar size, both serve during the breakfast time-frame and potentially both serve during the lunch/dinner time-frame.”

But, Mr. Harnick was reportedly told by the Ward 2 Councillor, she was not very familiar with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and “that if she were more familiar with it, she might have behaved differently.”

However, in a statement sent to The Standard, Councillor Seymour-Fagan refuted the report’s findings.

“I do not feel that this was a conflict of interest. If I had, I would [have] recused myself at both the planning meeting and the council meeting. As Councillor, I was representing my constituents who were concerned about the proposed application,” she wrote.

“This has nothing to do with me owning a business two blocks away. I welcome all new business to town, including restaurants. There are over 13 food establishments within walking distance of my location. We all work together. This has everything to do with the lack of parking in the area and the concerns of my constituents.”

She also pointed out, in her statement, how she wasn’t the only one to vote on the parking issue.

“The decision to reduce parking was not made by me alone. The planning committee was unanimous in the decision not to reduce the required provincial policy of eight parking spaces. When it came to Council again, it was unanimous to keep the required eight spaces as per provincial policy. Council members and the Mayor were at the planning committee meeting and at Council. Not once did any of them suggest it could be a conflict of interest. They know the location of my business, they know the nature of my business, and [have] even attended my business.”

She described her discussions with the Integrity Commissioner as “very aggressive and cornering.”

“I was shocked at how I was treated. I will be filing a complaint against him. Nobody should be treated the way I was,” she stated.

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