Greater Napanee Mayor failed to declare conflict of interest in land development

The Mayor of Greater Napanee contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) by failing to declare a pecuniary interest while discussing and approving the development of land by a builder with connections to her son, the town’s Integrity Commissioner has found.

According to the Integrity Commissioner, Mayor Marg Isbester breached the MCIA on matters pertaining to the development of Heritage Park, a property comprising approximately 16 acres bordered by Heritage Park Drive, Camden Road, Ginger Street, Church Street and Newburgh Road. The report and its findings will be discussed by council during its regular meeting on Tuesday.

“The Mayor did not file a written statement of her interest and its general nature in the Development Applications at the October 27, 2020 Council meeting. The Mayor, therefore, contravened section 5.1 of the MCIA,” the report reads on page 15, regarding one of the four allegations made against the Mayor in application for review. The report was signed by Laura Dean, the Integrity Commissioner for the Town of Greater Napanee, on August 24, 2021. The report can be read in full here. The agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting can be viewed here, which lists the presentation of the final MCIA report at the top of the agenda.

Image is taken from the October 27, 2020, regular council meeting.

A formal application was filed on March 1, 2021, requesting that, “an inquiry be carried out concerning alleged contraventions of the MCIA” by the Mayor, the report reads. Four allegations were made in the formal report. A breach was found on two of the allegations, which related to section 5, 5.1 and 5.2 of the MCIA, regarding the purchase of lands near Heritage Park. 

The report notes more discrepancies regarding the matter, in response to another one of the allegations filed on March 1. 

“We find that the Mayor contravened clauses 5(1)(a) and 5(1)(b) of the MCIA at the Regular Session of Council on October 27, 2020 when she failed to declare a pecuniary interest and took part in the discussion and subsequent approval of the Development Applications because the Development Applications had the clear potential to affect the Mayor’s son’s pecuniary interest given that such financial interest was clearly discernible and not hypothetical or entirely speculative,” Dean’s IC report reads.

According to the report, Mayor Isbester’s son, Andrew Isbester, “is a builder, landlord and property developer with property interests throughout the Town,” owns two separate numbered companies, which purchased two parcels of land near Heritage Park. The companies are: 1745158 Ontario Limited and 1652472 Ontario Inc. which own a 7-acre parcel of property located across Camden Road to the west of Heritage Park; and 391 Camden Road, a 4-acre parcel of vacant land abutting Heritage Park to the north, respectively.

“The evidence demonstrates that the Mayor’s son has had previous business dealings, involving the sale and development of land, with a local developer (the “Local Developer”) who demonstrated an interest in acquiring Heritage Park,” the report reads.

According to the MCIA, a pecuniary interest is described as direct or indirect interest for the sake of a parent, spouse or child and must be declared a conflict. 

“The Mayor does not refute the claim that she was aware of (Andrew Isbester’s) interest in the 4-acre and 7-acre properties in the vicinity of Heritage Park,” the report reads. “The Mayor did not disclose a pecuniary interest in the matter, acted as Chair of the meeting and took part in the discussion in respect of the Development Applications.” Council’s discussion can be watched during the October 27 2020 council meeting, posted on the Town’s YouTube channel, starting at 58:46 of the video. 

Image is taken from the October 27, 2020, regular council meeting.

“In our opinion, it was incumbent on the Mayor as an experienced member of Council to exercise particular caution in participating in Council decisions that had the potential to affect the Mayor’s son’s property and financial interests.

“Given the highly publicized public concern over the Town’s dealings with land and the fact that the Town had recently directed an independent review of its property sales process, one would have expected the Mayor to have demonstrated a higher level of attentiveness to perceived conflicts of interest,” Dean’s report declares.

Though Mayor Isbester has been found to have contravened the MCIA, the Integrity Commissioner has chosen not to move the matter before a judge.

“Although, in our opinion, the breach is not insignificant, we submit that deterrence can be achieved without the need for a court application. Furthermore, in our view, it is most likely that a court would not order that the Mayor be removed from her seat in the circumstances,” Dean’s IC report reads. 

“In our view, it would not be appropriate to refer this matter to a judge,” the report states. “Requiring the Town to incur the significant legal cost of pursuing a court application is not an appropriate use of the Town’s scarce resources and would not be in the public interest. Instead, we view the publication of this Report and the bringing to light of this issue to be the appropriate response in the circumstances.”

The report concluded with a recommendation to “the Mayor and all members of council (to) exercise caution to their statutory obligations under the MCIA.”

Related Kingstonist stories regarding this article can be found below:

KPMG Report goes public, declares no conflict of interest by the Town

Questions raised about ‘irregular’ property sale from town to former mayor

Greater Napanee Council moves to investigate past property sales

Greater Napanee ‘clearing up’ hundreds of properties with tax debts

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