Tay Val­ley — a town­ship di­vided

Ottawa Citizen - - NEWS - JOANNE LAU­CIUS jlau­cius@post­media.com

With only days to go be­fore the elec­tronic polls open in Tay Val­ley, the ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­ity has posted an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s find­ings on com­plaints against one of its sit­ting coun­cil­lors, who is now run­ning for the po­si­tion of deputy reeve.

The com­mis­sioner’s re­port rec­om­mended that Judy Far­rell, just com­plet­ing her first term in of­fice, be sanc­tioned 45 days’ pay. Coun­cil has sup­ported that rec­om­men­da­tion.

More about that later.

The real ques­tion for now could well be how a sim­mer­ing con­tro­versy in a pic­turesque town­ship west of Perth — con­sist­ing of about a dozen ham­lets scat­tered over 550 square kilo­me­tres — could be ab­sorb­ing so much space on the in­ter­net. Not to men­tion rack­ing up $200,000 in le­gal fees, and count­ing.

Far­rell, who runs a beef farm and maple syrup op­er­a­tion with her hus­band while driv­ing a school bus on the side, has been at the cen­tre of this saga, now into its sec­ond year.

She has been crit­i­cal of Tay Val­ley’s build­ing ap­proval and in­spec­tion pro­cesses, say­ing they have had a damp­en­ing ef­fect on de­vel­op­ment. Far­rell has re­ferred to her own ex­pe­ri­ence of hav­ing her home built, de­scrib­ing a dis­pute over whether nails or screws should be used on a small por­tion of a new deck.

In June 2017, del­e­ga­tions ap­peared be­fore coun­cil­lors to talk about the is­sue. Among them was area MPP Randy Hil­lier, who has also been crit­i­cal of the build­ing pro­cesses, and Far­rell’s brother, a rep­re­sen­ta­tive from the build­ing com­mu­nity.

That month, mu­nic­i­pal staff mem­bers made al­le­ga­tions of ha­rass­ment against Hil­lier and Far­rell. Two staff mem­bers went on stress leave.

In Jan­uary, an out­side in­ves­ti­ga­tor was brought in. They found staff had in­deed been ha­rassed. Far­rell was asked to apol­o­gize, but re­fused and was barred from the town­ship’s of­fices, ex­cept for coun­cil meet­ings.

Far­rell de­fended her ac­tions, main­tain­ing that her obli­ga­tions are to tax­pay­ers first. “Ev­ery­thing I have done was in a pub­lic coun­cil meet­ing. How can you call that ha­rass­ment?”

The var­i­ous twists and turns have en­trenched many in Tay Val­ley in ei­ther the pro-Far­rell or anti-Far­rell camp.

Su­san Free­man, who was on coun­cil be­fore bow­ing out in 2014, is run­ning again, this time for reeve. The past 18 months have been “tu­mul­tuous,” she says. Ev­ery­where she cam­paigns, peo­ple want to know where she stands when it comes to Far­rell. She says she’s been di­rect­ing them to the in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s re­port.

“It re­ally has po­lar­ized the coun­cil and the com­mu­nity. It’s un­prece­dented in terms of a small ru­ral com­mu­nity,” Free­man says. “Some peo­ple have said, ‘Poor Judy.’ Oth­ers have been very sym­pa­thetic to the staff and feel ha­rass­ment in the work­place is wrong and should not be tol­er­ated.”

Then this week, the mael­strom kicked up anew.

An in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s re­port was re­leased and posted on Tay Val­ley’s web­site fol­low­ing a spe­cial meet­ing of coun­cil on Sept. 9.

Keith Kerr, who has been reeve of Tay Val­ley since 2003 and who is run­ning again, says the in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s re­port was re­quested by four or five un­named tax­pay­ers. The mu­nic­i­pal­ity en­gaged John Ewart, a Peter­bor­ough lawyer and spe­cial­ist in mu­nic­i­pal law.

While Far­rell’s name is not men­tioned in the re­port, she is named on Tay Val­ley’s web­site, and she has iden­ti­fied her­self as the sub­ject of the re­port.

The re­port is based on an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into events and in­ci­dents be­tween Nov. 3, 2017, and April 3, 2018. It con­cludes that Far­rell con­tra­vened the code of con­duct when she re­fused to leave a closed ses­sion of coun­cil on Dec. 4, 2017. The sub­ject of the ses­sion was a for­mal in­ves­ti­ga­tion un­der the mu­nic­i­pal­ity ’s re­spect in the work­place pol­icy and the Oc­cu­pa­tional Health and Safety Act.

Far­rell had no un­der­stand­ing as to the na­ture of the con­flict of in­ter­est in mat­ters to be dis­cussed on that day, the re­port says, which Ewart found con­cern­ing.

“While a mem­ber of coun­cil can claim a lack of un­der­stand­ing of the mean­ing of con­flict of in­ter­est and the Code of Con­duct rules re­gard­ing coun­cil­lor’s obli­ga­tions pur­suant to the code of con­duct, it is un­ac­cept­able for such a po­si­tion to be held by a mem­ber of coun­cil in what would be the third year of the mu­nic­i­pal term of coun­cil.”

The re­port also came out against Far­rell in the mat­ter of an email dated March 8. Ewart said it was “dif­fi­cult to ex­plain” how Far­rell came into pos­ses­sion of an email one minute ear­lier than the iden­ti­cal email with­out the word “con­fi­den­tial” on it, but he found that dis­clos­ing the email and fail­ing to ad­mit to this un­til about a month later fell short of the stan­dards of the code of con­duct.

Ewart also looked into an al­le­ga­tion that Far­rell con­tra­vened the code of con­duct when she par­tic­i­pated in a ra­dio in­ter­view on Jan. 29, 2018. While Far­rell had signed a non-dis­clo­sure agree­ment and had been cau­tioned to keep the find­ings con­fi­den­tial, she spoke about mat­ters which had not been dis­closed dur­ing the in­ves­ti­ga­tion, and it was her right to do so, he found.

The re­port is be­ing viewed as con­tro­ver­sial not just be­cause of its con­tents. The tim­ing of the de­ci­sion to post it has also been raised as an is­sue. Elec­tronic polls in Tay Val­ley open Mon­day.

“They are try­ing to turn the votes against me,” Far­rell says. “But I’m get­ting a lot of sup­port.”

Hil­lier is squarely in Far­rell’s cor­ner.

The MPP has 13 mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in his rid­ing of La­nark-Fron­tenac-Kingston and says the com­plaints he gets about Tay Val­ley, par­tic­u­larly around plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment, are com­pletely out of pro­por­tion to its pop­u­la­tion of about 6,000 per­ma­nent res­i­dents and a few thou­sand cot­tagers. There are fewer houses in Tay Val­ley now than there were a decade ago, Hil­lier says.

He has pub­lished his own list of pre­ferred can­di­dates on his Face­book page, a list that in­cludes Far­rell.

“This is a very unique sit­u­a­tion for my­self,” he says. “It’s the first time I’ve been so en­gaged in a mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.”

Also sup­port­ing Far­rell is the Blue­berry Creek For­est School and Na­ture Cen­tre, which is run by La­nark-Fron­tenac-Kingston MP Scott Reid’s wife, Robyn Mulc­ahy.

Blue­berry Creek has been in a bat­tle with Tay Val­ley over its com­mer­cial zon­ing by­law. In ads, Blue­berry Creek al­leges that Tay Val­ley has en­gaged in hun­dreds of thou­sands of dol­lars worth of lit­i­ga­tion against its own res­i­dents and is threat­en­ing more.

“Please vote for peo­ple who aren’t threat­en­ing to lit­i­gate against us,” sum­ma­rizes Reid, who de­scribes the sit­u­a­tion as “Kafka il­lus­trated by Dr. Seuss.”

Kerr, the cur­rent reeve, says he be­lieves these ac­tions amount to po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.

Hil­lier dis­agrees. Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties and the prov­ince have an in­ter­twined re­la­tion­ship and when he get com­plaints about mu­nic­i­pal re­sponses to con­stituents’ prob­lems, he has a duty and an obli­ga­tion to step in, he says. Reid says a friend vol­un­teered to pro­duce the third-party ad­ver­tise­ment for Blue­berry Creek.

Far­rell, for her part, says she didn’t even know that the town­ship had hired an in­tegrity com­mis­sioner un­til she got a let­ter from Ewart. She es­ti­mates that her per­sonal le­gal fees have added up to about $30,000 since June 2017. As a coun­cil­lor, she’s paid about $1,000 a month.

“I am us­ing my own money. Tax­pay­ers shouldn’t have to pay for it,” she says

If that mat­ter had been han­dled prop­erly in the first place, no­body would have had to spend so much on le­gal fees, Far­rell main­tains.

“We would have re­solved it in Au­gust 2017. It has got­ten out of hand,” she says. “We need a coun­cil to work to­gether as a team and staff that works for us.”

Says Kerr: “I have been on coun­cil for a long time, and I’ve never had a prob­lem un­til Coun. Far­rell was elected.”

Ac­cord­ing to Kerr’s cal­cu­la­tions, the town­ship will have spent $300,000 in le­gal fees since Far­rell was first ac­cused of ha­rass­ing staff in June 2017, in­clud­ing Ewart’s re­port. Typ­i­cally, the town­ship bud­gets $50,000 a year for le­gal costs and never comes to close to spend­ing that amount, he says.

“I don’t think we can af­ford her for an­other term.”

Are Tay Val­ley’s woes all about Judy Far­rell? Hil­lier doesn’t think so. “This pre­dates Judy. This has been go­ing on for some time.”

ER­ROL MCGI­HON FILES

Tay Val­ley coun­cil­lor Judy Far­rell sits sur­rounded by pa­per­work re­gard­ing com­plaints that she ha­rassed mu­nic­i­pal staff mem­bers. An in­tegrity com­mis­sioner’s re­port, which said Far­rell con­tra­vened the code of con­duct, was re­leased on the eve of the mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

CHRIS YOUNG/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS FILES

Tory MPP Randy Hil­lier agrees with con­tro­ver­sial Tay Val­ley coun­cil­lor Judy Far­rell, say­ing the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s prob­lems date back to be­fore she was elected.

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