Dennison declares a conflict on a matter held in a closed session of Council – how was that possible?

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  July 17, 2013.   There are usually three of us at the Media table in city council chambers and from time to time we run something by each other – to clarify or to ask what the heck’s going on.

Councillor Jack Dennison with his election winning smile.

One of those asides took place at the city council meeting on Monday when Ward 4 Councillor Jack Dennison declared an interest in a report that was going to be accepted by city council.

What had my colleague Joan Little and I wondering was:  How does a Council member declare a conflict of interest on a report that was giving council members a quarterly litigation update in a closed session of Council?  Can you do that we wondered.  We agreed to think about that and decide what if anything we wanted to do.

In the world of journalism one gets phone calls – some are to complain, some are to advance an interest, and some are to pass on information.

Councillor Jack Dennison property on Lakeshore Road for which he is seeking permission to sever into two lots. Permission to do was denied by the city’s Committee of Adjustment and it now being appealed to the Ontario Municipal Board. Is the city going to have to hire outside legal council to fight a case where the council member is choosing not to adhere to the Official Plan?

A caller earlier in the day wanted to know why were weren’t writing about the city’s plan to hire outside legal counsel for an upcoming Ontario Municipal Board hearing on an appeal Dennison has filed over a Committee of Adjustment decision not to grant him the severance he was seeking to create two lots out of the one he owns on Lakeshore Road.

Now the picture was clearer.  In the Litigation Update, and all we are doing here is speculating because the content of that document is not public, some mention would have been made about the forthcoming Dennison OMB appeal.  The office of the city solicitor, Nancy Shea Nicol, will either have to arrange for a staff lawyer to represent the city or arrange to hire outside council.

Our caller wondered how a member of council can have taxpayer funds used to defend the decision made by the city’s Committee of Adjustment.  Isn’t the council member in place to ensure that the rules in place are upheld?

Little and I then talked about what took place and looked carefully at the province’s Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, where the rules are clearly set out.  A person who has a conflict of interest “shall, prior to any consideration of the matter at the meeting, disclose the interest and the general nature thereof;”

Dennison did disclose his conflict but that is all he did – he said nothing of the “general nature thereof”.  Many in the community believe that Dennison has put the city solicitor in an awkward situation where she has to use part of her budget to hire outside counsel to defend the decision made at Committee of Adjustment.

We have a concern with this on several levels.  At some point the citizens of the city and specifically those in Ward 4 are going to want some clarity on just what their council member is doing with the tax money they send to the city each year.  Is it being used to hire lawyers to fight hearings at tribunals brought about by a Council member who does not want to adhere to the city’s official plan?  He voted for that Official Plan.

Do the citizens of Ward 4 have to wait until the next election before the dump their council member?

How does a Council member do what Dennison did without so much as a peep publicly from any other member of Council?  Is there no limit to the confidentiality of closed hearings?  At a minimum any Council member could have made a remark and expressed at least some concern over the way certain conflict of interest matters were being handled.

Why didn’t the Clerk ask Dennison to elaborate on why he was declaring a conflict of interest?  The Clerk is there to ensure that the city’s procedural bylaw is followed: would that not extend to how someone slips around the edges of provincial legislation?

There are processes that can be followed to put a stop to this kind of nonsense.

The decent thing to do would be for Dennison to resign but that would call for a by-election which would probably cost the city more than hiring a lawyer to defend the Committee of Adjustment hearing.

This is a mess.

Premier Kathleen Wynne says the law used to keep Ontario’s mayors and other municipal politicians in line needs work.  Former justice Douglas Cunningham, who led an inquiry into conflict allegations against Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion, recommended alternative penalty options such as a 120-day suspension or formal apology.  Suspending Dennison for 120 would suit the people of Ward 4 just fine.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

5 comments to Dennison declares a conflict on a matter held in a closed session of Council – how was that possible?

  • Good for you BurlingtonGazette for keeping us informed about Dennison’s shenanigans.

  • A couple of points of clarification, then quick comments.

    Your piece initially and inadvertently refers to Jack Dennison as the “Ward 6” Councillor (it’s Ward 4, as you noted later).

    You also indicate a resignation automatically leads to a costly by-election. That’s not so.

    For example: when MP Mike Wallace resigned his Ward seat, Council had the options to hold a by-election or appoint an interim Councillor until the next general election (provided that he/she doesn’t run in such election). With the election not far off, Council went with an interim representative.

    Here are my comments (plus a question)…

    Jack Dennison has never been the retiring or resigning type, so that’s not likely going to happen.

    More to the point, this case involves the private rights of a citizen who’s also a public servant. Not an easy line to walk on occasion. It may come down to what a Councillor should do, not what can be done. And the court of public opinion often renders harsh judgments.

    It would be insightful (and fair) to speak directly with the Ward 4 Councillor, and consider his views. Have you asked him for an interview on the subject?

  • Tom

    It seems that Dennison has become uncontrollably arrogant.

  • James Sisson

    Jack Dennison is Ward 4 Councillor not ward 6.?
    Editors note:
    We stand corrected;error noted and fixed.

  • parrking

    Got this from a member of the community:
    One further thing for you perhaps to consider – take another look at the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. See what’s included – note that the CoA is there. Then ask yourself why Jack declared a conflict of interest for this discussion, but not only failed to declare at the CoA, but personally advocated his position there.
    Hmmmm – why now and not then? Does he have a potential problem? Maybe