Callaghan conflict of interest hearing begins in Guelph

Lawyer Americo Fernandes has suggested sanctions should be issued if the court determines that Erin councillor Deb Callaghan has violated even one of the Municipal Conflict of Interest allegations heard at Superior Court here on Oct. 20.

Fernandes was acting on behalf of Erin resident Mark Adamiak, who in March submitted a court application suggesting Callaghan breached provisions of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act multiple times by voting on town staff pay increases (including for her husband, fire chief Dan Callaghan) and on a motion to proceed with a municipal operational review.

Callaghan has challenged the allegation, stating she viewed the votes as looking at the big picture – and not as moves related solely to her husband.

Fernandes requested that Callaghan’s council seat be declared vacant immediately, that she be disqualified for running for public office for seven years, and that she be required to reimburse the municipality for any of her husband’s financial gains ($2,614) as a result of those decisions.

Further, Fernandes requested that a public apology be issued by Callaghan and that she be required to pay all court costs.

None of the allegations against Callaghan have been proven in court.

Due to a number of delays on Oct. 20, the case did not start until roughly 3pm in front of judge Michael G. Emery. Court was adjourned for the day following the Fernandes’ presentation, meaning Callaghan’s lawyer Thomas Arnold was not afforded an opportunity to present her defence that afternoon.

As of press time, it was not known whether the remainder of the case would be dealt with this week in Brampton, or in November in either Guelph or Brampton Superior Court.

Fernandes told the court on Monday that Adamiak wanted Callaghan deemed ineligible to run in the Oct. 27 municipal election, yet Callaghan announced on Sept. 2 she would not seek re-election.

Fernandes spent his presentation attempting to discredit Callaghan’s argument that her votes were made through inadvertence or errors in judgement.

He referred to various aspects of previous testimony and council minutes outlining when the various decisions were made regarding the vote on the three per cent staff pay increase in December 2011.

Emery pointed out the vote for the staff wage increase did not specifically refer to the fire chief.

Yet Fernandes contended that Callaghan was aware of the pecuniary interest because raising staff salaries would increase her husband’s salary as well.

Fernandes stated that no pecuniary interest was declared as part of that discussion, though the Municipal Act explicitly specifies that it shall be stated prior to a discussion, along with the general nature of that pecuniary interest.

Further, the individual is expected not to participate in the discussion, the vote or attempt any influence before or after the vote is taken, Fernandes said, noting Callaghan was fully aware the fire chief’s salary would be impacted.

He said that during the December 2011 meeting, Callaghan had declared a pecuniary interest on fire-related items in the budget, but two hours later did not declare a pecuniary interest on a vote that directly affected her husband’s salary.

Callaghan’s contention was that she was voting on a general increase for staff, not a specific person.

Fernandes pointed to testimony in which Callaghan states, “in hindsight it was a mistake on my part.”

He also spoke of Callaghan’s involvement in receiving an operational report even though it was something which could potentially affect her husband’s job.

Judge Emery asked whether that document specifically referred to the fire chief’s position. Fernandes agreed that it did not, but maintained such a review would involve the fire department and the positions within it.

Emery pointed out the document referred to the creation of a citizen task force to undertake the review.

“So where is the pecuniary interest?” Emery asked.

Fernandes said he believed Callaghan should have declared a conflict even though the review had not started.

He also made mention of previous testimony by Erin Mayor Lou Maieron stating the mayor had talked to Callaghan many times about the potential conflict of interest and pecuniary interest. Callaghan later denied those discussions had happened.

Fernandes further tried to discredit Callaghan’s error-in-judgement defence by using comments made by fellow Erin councillor John Brennan, who had stated he believed any of Callaghan’s potential transgressions were entirely unintentional.

Fernandes stated, “it is either inadvertence or an error in judgement – you can’t have it both ways.”

He also questioned Callaghan’s unequivocal denial of the content of discussions with Maieron. Fernandes said initially Callaghan made the denial, but later stated she did not remember such discussions.

“In a nutshell, there are at least three votes where she should not have voted,” argued Fernandes.

He added Callaghan agreed she had a pecuniary interest, but she said  the decisions were made by inadvertence or errors in judgement.

The hearing was then adjourned for the day.