Former Erin councillor Deb Callaghan has been found guilty of breaching the spirit and letter of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) by voting on matters that affected the salary of her husband, Erin’s fire chief.
Following two days of hearings in late October, Superior Court Justice Michael Emery said his decision would be announced “shortly.” The judgment was filed on Dec. 16.
In his written judgement, Emery stated, “Few things in life strike closer to home than politics in a small community.”
Both applicant Mark Adamiak and Callaghan are residents of Erin.
Callaghan served a single term as councillor for the Town of Erin and her husband Dan Callaghan is the town’s fire chief.
Adamiak argued that under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, Callaghan failed to declare a pecuniary interest and did not refrain from voting on two resolutions affecting her husband’s salary.
Adamiak also contended councillor Callaghan had a pecuniary interest when voting on the implementation of a municipal operational review that could have affected the fire department. Since the application was filed prior to the Oct. 27 municipal election, Adamiak wanted Callaghan removed from office immediately, banned from running from office for four years and a court order requiring her to pay back the raises her husband had received.
In his judgement, Emery said he found Adamiak met the burden of proof to establish the probability that Callaghan did break the MCIA regarding the vote on wages that would impact her husband’s salary.
However, Emery found that the vote to commission an operational review of town departments did not involve a pecuniary interest.
Because Callaghan was deemed to have a pecuniary interest in the salary vote, Emery said he is required to impose a penalty. But since Callaghan is no longer serving as a councillor and did not run for re-election, removing her from office was not an option.
Emery stated that as a general rule the severity of the penalty should be proportional to the breach.
“The question is therefore, how severe was the breach of duty?” he asked. “Ms. Callaghan knew or ought to have known of the potential that she would face situations where she had a deemed pecuniary interest on matters coming before council directly or indirectly involving her husband’s remuneration as fire chief.”
Emery then noted the affidavit of then-mayor Lou Maieron indicated that Callaghan was informed of the potential conflict.
Because of more than one breach of the MCIA, Emery said the penalty must extend beyond disqualifying her as a councillor for the current term.
“Ms. Callaghan breached the spirit and letter of the MCIA,” he stated. “It is not enough to order that she sit out the current municipal term as a penalty, for that would be no penalty at all.”
Thus Emery disqualified Callaghan from being a municipal councillor for six years, which effectively prevents her from running in the next municipal election or being appointed to a council position if one becomes vacant during the current term.
“I do not exercise my discretion to order that Ms. Callaghan repay any increases in salary received by her husband Dan Callaghan as fire chief for the years 2012 and 2013.” He noted Adamiak had not filed a claim for restitution, nor proven he had suffered a loss from the chief’s increase in salary.
Emery pointed out “those increases were earned and have only been called into question because of the position Ms. Callaghan held as a member of council, and by the operation of the MCIA.”
Callaghan has in the past indicated she had no intention of running for council again.
Neither Callaghan nor Adamiak could be reached for comment by press time.