Emo council, voted Tuesday night to accept and follow through with recommendations for a minor reprimand and education for mayor and council, following a conflict of interest investigation of Mayor Harold McQuaker.
McQuaker was being investigated by the Township’s integrity commissioner, Darrell Matson, after two complaints were filed against the mayor in June.
At the May 26, 2020 regular council meeting, a company belonging to McQuaker’s son, Shane McQuaker Trucking, won a tender for crushing and stockpiling gravel. McQuaker was asked at the meeting if he was involved in previous discussion leading up to the tendering development process, to which McQuaker answered yes, followed by him stating that he was unsure if he needed to declare a conflict of interest because the meeting was over Zoom.
Members of the public can initiate an investigation by the Integrity Commissioner when they suspect wrongdoing by council members, either under the municipality’s Code of Conduct for council members, or under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA).
The two applications alleged that on May 26, 2020, McQuaker violated section 5 of MCIA. Section 5 of the MCIA requires that a member of a municipal council disclose a financial interest in a matter that is the subject of consideration of the council before that item is considered at the council meeting. The member cannot take part in the discussion of the item or any vote if this is the case.
Integrity commissioner Matson, in his final report, concluded that while McQuaker did have a conflict of interest in the matter, he had belatedly declared the conflict, and no evidence of influencing the vote was produced. He was, however, found to have violated Section 5(1) of the MCIA in not identifying the nature of the conflict, and not filing a written statement of the conflict of interest.
Matson determined that the violations did not warrant the complaint being brought before a court, where a judge could impose harsher sanctions, including declaring McQuaker’s seat vacant, disqualifying him from being a member for up to seven years or requiring him to make restitution.
The recommendations put forth by the integrity commissioner, as a minor reprimand, were that:
• Mayor McQuaker file a written declaration as required by section 5.1 of the MCIA
• the Mayor also undertake an educational refresher on the MCIA, and the Municipal Act with a focus on the changes that have occurred since the inaugural meeting of council
• that all members of council participate in the educational refresher, and
• the township of Emo establish a conflict of interest registry in accordance with Section 6.1 (1) of the MCIA.
The MCIA sets out a framework for when participation in local government decision-making is appropriate. The overall goal is to protect the public interest by prohibiting any member from having any involvement in a matter that is being considered by council or local board if the member has a financial interest in the matter.
The MCIA does not prohibit private business owners from conducting their business, but it does set up a series of rules that must be followed if a member has a direct financial interest in the matter before council.
McQuaker chose to decline an offer to comment on the matter.