At their regular meeting on the evening of Monday, Jun. 28, 2021, Loyalist Township Council will officially receive the details of the Township Integrity Commissioner’s report on the misconduct of Ward 3 Councillor, Penny Porter. Porter was found guilty of a pecuniary conflict of interest earlier this year and it is up to Council to decide what disciplinary action should be taken.
According to the report by John Mascarin, Integrity Commissioner for the Township of Loyalist, a complaint filed Jan 11, 2021, alleged that Porter contravened the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) by “failing to disclose a pecuniary interest, participating in discussion, and voting on a resolution to make certain revisions to the Township’s Official Plan,” which would directly benefit her.
The report, concludes, “In our view, the appropriate response in the circumstances is the daylighting of this issue through publication of our report. We have provided notice to the Applicant of our decision. We recommend that a copy of our written reasons in this report be posted by the Township on its website.”
In addition to her role as a member of Council, Porter is a real estate developer active in eastern Ontario, including development projects in the Township. Porter’s company, 1745154 Ontario Ltd., owns a vacant parcel of land fronting on Emma Street, located in Odessa’s residential neighbourhood.
In her Development Proposal for the Odessa property, Porter proposed to develop the site with multiple residential apartment buildings. According to the report, “In this development concept, a portion of Emma Street, which is owned by the Township, would be stopped up, closed, and conveyed to the Holding Company to facilitate the construction” of the apartment buildings.
On Nov 10, 2020, Porter, in her role as owner of 1745154 Ontario Ltd., attended a mandatory development application pre-consultation meeting with Township staff, as is standard practice in the municipal planning approval process. During the Pre-Consultation Meeting, Township Staff reviewed the Development Proposal with Porter and provided preliminary feedback.
Township staff explained several issues with Porter’s proposal. First, an amendment to the Township of Loyalist Official Plan (the “Official Plan”) would be required to redesignate the site “High Density Residential” to permit a density of 120 units per hectare. Two major impositions of the proposal were raised; the site does not have direct access to a collector or arterial road, and that the site is located in the middle of a low-density area. Township staff indicated that they could not support the Development Proposal as presented.
According to the report, “As an alternative, Township staff explored the possibility of seeking a ‘Medium Density Residential designation of the Site. This would be achieved by reducing the unit count in the Development Proposal and increasing the lot size through the closure and conveyance of portions of Emma Street.”
At or about the same time that Councillor Porter was formulating her plans for the development of the site, the Township was in the process of conducting a comprehensive review of its Official Plan.
Pursuant to the Planning Act, a statutory public meeting was held to consider a proposed comprehensive amendment to the Official Plan on Dec 15, 2020. Township staff presented the Draft Official Plan (DOP) to the Council and members of the public, who were then invited to make verbal comments on the draft.
When her turn came, Porter presented a total of 36 modifications to the DOP, as well as a request for three further reports from Township staff. According to the Integrity Commissioner, her proposed modifications would directly benefit the land development in Odessa, allowing her to skirt the recommendations made by the Township. At no time during the discussion and voting did Porter declare a conflict of interest.
Councillor Porter’s proposed modifications to the DOP benefited her Development Proposal by putting in place a planning policy framework that is more favourable to the development concept proposed. This would allow the Councillor to get a “leg up” on her own development applications, and circumvent the required public process, the report explains.
By failing to declare a pecuniary interest, participating in the discussion of, and by ultimately voting on the DOP, Councillor Porter violated the MCIA.
The Corporation Of Loyalist Township Code Of Conduct For Members Of Council & Local Boards states in Section 11.1 “A Member shall seek to avoid conflicts of interest, both pecuniary and nonpecuniary. A Member shall comply with the requirements of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act with respect to obligations relating to pecuniary interests. A Member shall take proactive steps to mitigate any non-pecuniary conflicts of interest in order to maintain public confidence in the Township and its elected officials.”
It is up to council to decide if this breach of their Code of Conduct requires further action beyond the publication of the report.