Aurora Citizen

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Archive for the ‘Conflict of Interest’ Category

Morris Conflict of Interest Case Continues

Posted by auroracitizen on November 3, 2012

Here is an update on Phyllis Morris’s Legacy as Mayor of Aurora.

Last Friday November 2, 1012, at a few minutes before 11:00 am, the door to Court Room 301 at the Newmarket Courthouse was opened by the Bailiff and those who would attend do so and stake out their seats. The room is far more intimate than the one used for the first day of hearings and Phyllis Morris — together with her die-hard supporters — elects the right hand side where there are more chairs. Among her group were her spouse, her daughter, Catherine Marshall, Guy Poppe, an unidentified woman, and lo and behold sitting Councillors Gaertner and Ballard.

With Gaertner, her appearance is to be expected. She has been an unwavering supporter and blindly followed Morris in all things done.

But what is striking is that Ballard would waste a whole day sitting at the feet of a failed politician and unequivocally declaring his support. After his steadfast refusal to declare his support at the last election — which probably served him well — he has now consistently declared his support for Morris and her failed leadership.

Jill Copeland, lawyer for George Hervey, raised the first order of business. She holds up a document and describes it as the decision handed down on October 22, 2012, by Master Thomas Hawkins, arising from a claim for costs filed by the remaining two defendants in the original defamation suit. Ms. Copeland points out the important conclusion reached by Master Hawkins, namely that the defamation action was in fact SLAPP litigation, whose sole purpose was to intimidate and silence certain critics of the former mayor and in which she was the sole beneficiary of the $6,000,000 sought. She felt it was relevant to this matter as well.

Steven O’Melia, representing Morris, objected quite strongly about allowing this document to be entered as evidence.

Judge Gilmore sided with Ms. Copeland.

The day then began with Mr. O’Melia continuing with his drudging litany of misbehavior by Mr. Hervey.

Mr O’melia quoted extensively from Mr. Hervey’s sworn testimony and from letters to the Editor of the Auroran written by Mr. Hervey. He found it somewhat confusing that Mr. Hervey used the date of March 30, 2011, when the Rust-D’Eye Executive Summary was released by the town, as the date that Mr. Hervey knew for a fact that there had been breaches of a pecuniary nature and hence a conflict — while at the same time disagreeing with other parts of the same document, particularly those that opined that the entire operation of the town was breaking down due to poor staff morale.

In other words he didn’t argue that Morris was not in a conflict — but that the case should not be heard because private citizen Hervey was too late in bringing the matter forward to the courts. In legal circles, this is trying to avoid a judges ruling on the basis of a legal loophole — versus arguing the matter on the basis of whether she was actually in a conflict. An interesting strategy.

After lunch,  Mr. O’Melia continued with his arguments — although now, Mr Poppe is replaced by another long time supporter of Ms Morris — former Councillor Stephen Granger. O’Melia concluded at 3:00 pm. A total of 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Ms. Copeland took the floor and told the judge that she had 13 points that she wished to make. These were all by way of specific reply to arguments put forward by Mr. O’Melia and were in now a summation statement. Ms. Copeland’s presentation was completed with a certain amount of controlled emotion; it reinvigorated the Courtroom  and it certainly held the Judge’s undivided attention.

The matter concluded at 3:30 PM, the Judge thanked Counsel and said she would get at the case as soon as she could, although she had a substantial backlog.

This could be several months.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Integrity, Leadership, Legal | 33 Comments »

Who Should Be on the Negotiating Committee?

Posted by auroracitizen on April 2, 2012

Here is an interesting scenario posed by one of our readers. What are your thoughts?


It is my understanding that by April 10, next Council meeting, two Councillors will have been selected to represent the Town on the Ad Hoc Negotiating Committee. They, together with two nominees from the Centre, plus a facilitator selected by agreement of the two parties, will form the Committee.

Councillors Ballard, Gaertner and Gallo seem to have eliminated themselves from consideration as a consequence of their position regarding the relationship between the Town and the Centre. Councillors Abel and Pirri might likewise have eliminated themselves as a result of the motion they placed before Council February 28 to terminate the existing agreement. Councillor Buck, who would make an admirable representative of the Town on this committee, might have also eliminated herself because of her open and vocal opposition to the entire concept of an agreement to manage and operate the Centre. Assuming that Mayor Dawe is ineligible because of his office, this leaves, by default, Councillors Humfryes and Thompson to represent the Town on the committee.

We are not necessarily getting the best or most knowledgeable people; we have simply gone through and eliminated those whose stated positions tend to render them in a kind of conflict of interest situation. And we don’t need any more conflicts of interest in Aurora. Heaven forbid!

So my question is, how is this all going to play out and will the Town be getting the best possible representation on this vitally important committee?


A further question that arises is since when does a facilitator actually vote? We have never heard of a facilitator voting in a discussion — their role is to remain impartial and “facilitate” a discussion. If they are expected to vote — then how can they remain impartial? Also, how will they be chosen?

This situation gets more convoluted and poorly thought through as the days unfold.

Posted in Community Corner, Community Input, Conflict of Interest, Integrity, Leadership, Town Committees, Town Council | 45 Comments »

Please help me understand how litigation against three Aurora citizens was approved.

Posted by auroracitizen on April 13, 2011

Re: EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Payment of Legal Expenses of Phyllis Morris and the defamation action of Phyllis Morris v.Johnson et al.

An Open Letter to the Aurora Town Council and the Citizens of Aurora.

I am writing this as an open letter to the current Aurora Town Council and to the citizens of Aurora as I believe others may have similar questions and concerns in relation to the defamation action of Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al. I stand open to being corrected if anyone has any new information to be shared and I look to others for answers and clarification as I don’t believe that the current information in the public domain is sufficient to explain how this action was authorized by the Town of Aurora. It is only by sharing the following questions and subsequent answers (and any questions that other Aurora citizens may contribute) that we may all learn and come to understand how this action proceeded to its present state. A considerable amount of Aurora tax money is now authorized for payment of external legal fees for this case but more importantly to me three private citizens of Aurora are still involved as defendants in this action which may take years to resolve and which may jeopardize the financial futures of their families.

I realize that there are those that support Ms. Morris’ argument and reasoning for her defamation suit as equally there are those that support Richard Johnson, Elizabeth Bishenden and Bill Hogg (Johnson et al) and I respect their difference in opinions. I was from the start and still remain in support of Johnson et al but it is not my intention here to argue the legal aspects of their case as this is now in the hands of our judicial system and the lawyers. It is my intention to learn and better understand how this action was authorized by the Town and to understand how it was deemed to follow the proper legislative and administrative procedures.

I recognize that Mayor Dawe and some of the current councillors that ran on a platform that included stopping the Town’s involvement in the lawsuit. I commend them for following through on this promise once they were sworn into office. I also commend those councillors and mayoral candidates that also supported stopping the Town’s involvement but who were not successful in the recent election. I can appreciate that Mayor Dawe and the current Town Council has had to responsibly deal with the matters opened by the previous council and administration and were faced with the difficult decision to authorize the payment of external legal fees to December 14, 2010. I further recognize that there may still be some legal privacy issues in answering some of my questions but that does not prohibit me from asking these important questions and seeking these answers even if they may still be forthcoming in the future when this case is resolved.

In the following, I will reference the letter by George Rust-D’Eye of WeirFoulds LLP entitled EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Payment of Legal Expenses of Phyllis Morris (to be known as the “Executive Summary”). This letter was made public on March 30, 2011 as a Media Advisory by the Town of Aurora. It was authorized for release by order of the Aurora Town Council at its March 29, 2011 meeting and it can be found on the Town website at the webpage under 2011 Media Releases (March 30, 2011).

It was after reading George Rust-D’Eye’s Executive Summary that I was compelled to ask the contained questions and to seek the assistance from others to help me and the citizens of Aurora better understand how Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al was initiated by the Town of Aurora. It is the Executive Summary that makes me question past information and/or lack of information to the public in this matter.

I am numbering my questions so that anyone responding to this letter can do so accordingly by the question number.

1. Who has the legal authority at the Town to proceed on the Town’s behalf with a lawsuit?

2. What are or in fact are there any legislative steps that must be complied with by the Town Council in order to initiate a lawsuit? What is the involvement and authority of the Mayor and the Town’s administrative staff, be it the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), the Town Solicitor or any other Town staff in initiating a lawsuit?

3. I recognize that this matter started with the Council directive from the Closed Session of the Town Council Meeting of September 14, 2010. From that point onwards what were the steps and who further authorized that this matter was to be handled directly as a lawsuit?

As stated in Question 3, this matter started with the Council directive from the Closed Session of the Town Council Meeting of September 14, 2010 (Please see 2nd attachment). The entry for this motion is as follows:

Council recessed into Closed Session at 11:33pm

Mayor Morris left the meeting at 1:10 am.

Council reconvened into Open Session at 1:11 am with Deputy Mayor McRoberts in the Chair.

Moved by Councillor MacEachern Seconded by Councillor Gaertner

THAT the Council rise and report from the Closed Session to confirm the direction from Closed Session regarding the potential defamation; and THAT the Town Solicitor be directed to retain external legal counsel and to take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter.


The September 14th Council meeting initially had Mayor Morris and all eight Councillors in attendance. In the minutes it is noted that Councillor Collins-Mrakas left the meeting at 10:16 pm and Councillor Buck left the meeting at 11:01 pm. The Closed session would then have included Mayor Morris (who subsequently left at 1:10am just before reporting out and before the vote) and Councillors Gaertner, Gallo, Granger, MacEachern, McRoberts and Wilson. There is no indication in the minutes as to if any Town staff may have been involved in the closed session but since it involved litigation I would assume that the Town’s CAO and the Town Solicitor would be present, though I stand corrected if they were not present and/or if others were present.

From the Executive Summary (after the September 14th Council Meeting and after the Town retained Aird & Berlis LLP (“AB”) as its external legal counsel): “Then-Mayor Morris requested the Town to pay for the litigation, following the receipt of a legal opinion from AB in which it was advised that the comments were made against the Mayor, as well as the Town Solicitor and the Integrity Commissioner, in their capacity as elected officials or employees of the Town.”

4. Given the answers to the above questions 1, 2 & 3 and the statement “Then-Mayor requested the Town to pay for the litigation”, were the steps taken by the Town in accordance to the accepted procedures and in such a way that Mayor Morris could not be seen as having a conflict of interest as she had direct involvement in the case being that she would be the plaintiff, that the Town would be financing this action and that she would be the sole beneficiary of any awarded damages?

5. As I see no further reference to this action in any other subsequent Council Meeting in the above statement “who” is the Town? Was this a Town staff member with authority to authorize payment for the litigation?

6. Again, who at the Town had the authority to proceed with litigation? If it was the Mayor was it not a conflict of interest for the Mayor to request the Town to proceed? If it was the Mayor, should not another person (be it elected or Town staff) have taken the lead to this action?

7. Was there a reason why this matter was not taken back to Council be it in a closed session to authorize such litigation and the accompanying expenditures?

From the Executive Summary: “The retainer letter signed by the Mayor and the Town on October 6, 2010 leads to the conclusion that both are jointly and severally liable for paying the legal expenses incurred for the defamation action.”

8. Thus the Town and Ms. Morris were equally and separately responsible for the full amount. The Town has now authorized payment of legal fees to December 14, 2010. Should the Town not be demanding that Ms. Morris reimburse the Town now for at least ½ of the Town external legal fees instead of as recommended in the Executive Summary “that the Town give notice to Phyllis Morris of the intent by the Town to look to her for indemnity in respect of legal services paid for by the Town out of any damages or cost recovered by her in the proceedings”? The only way that the Town will be reimbursed will be if Ms. Morris is successful and the 3 Aurora citizens are not and this does not guarantee any funds to the Town as there is no signed agreement for this option.

9. Would the Mayor have proceeded or initiated such action given that she would have to pay ½ the current legal expense?

(This is now a hypothetical question and does not require an answer).

From the Executive Summary: “it appears that, at the time of the meeting of the Town Council on September 14 and 15, 2010, it was accepted by all concerned that the abuse being heaped on the Mayor and other municipal officials by third parties, was seen as an attack on the reputation of the Town itself, affecting the reputation and perceived integrity of Council and staff, and that there was an agreed-upon strategy to vindicate the Town’s name and reputation, which was seen at least as much the target as was the Mayor herself;”

10. Are we to understand that the “agreed-upon strategy” that Mr. Rust-D’Eye writes of was simply the wording in the Council Meeting Minutes of September 14, 2010 “THAT the Town Solicitor be directed to retain external legal counsel and to take any and all actions to bring resolution to this matter”? And that it was this directive that gave authorization to an open-ended mandate and a blank cheque to external counsel without further advice, consultation or authority from Council. (A separate rhetorical question but if there was not an election and a change of Council to stop payment to AB how high would the lawyer’s bill have gone?)

11. If it was an “agreed-upon strategy” then why if I recall correctly were some councillors apparently surprised when the news of the litigation came forth?

12. Were these instructions sufficient to proceed with the defamation suit? (Thus my earlier questions on legislative procedure).

13. Did the Town Solicitor or whoever instructed the external legal counsel of Aird & Berlis have the authority to proceed with litigation without further approval from Town Council?

14. Was the motion from the September 14th meeting so broadly worded that it could be ambiguous enough so that legal proceedings could commence without further authorization or approval from Council?

15. Did council discuss litigation as part of their closed session meeting? Was it understood that litigation was the only option that external legal counsel should pursue? (I realize that this may never be known as it was a closed session). If so, then they knew it could proceed to the current situation along with the financial burden to the Town. If not, then did someone at the Town over-step their authority (thus my earlier questions as to procedure in authorizing litigation)?

Please help me understand how we arrived at the current state of affairs.

It is my opinion that the council directive was far too vague and could be viewed as irresponsible as it did not provide specific direction and limitations and any need for the external legal counsel once engaged to seek further direction and authorization from council. Given the particular care that councillors take in wording their motions and given the fact that this was done at the end of term with councillors having a minimum of 4 years of experience (excluding Councillor Gallo) in their seats as opposed to being inexperienced councillors at the beginning of term it is surprising that this motion as worded was ever approved. It makes me wonder whether there is any part of this incident and/or subsequent actions that could be deemed in any way to violate the Municipal Act and/or the Town’s business and legislative procedures and if so who are we to hold accountable for their actions.

I note that Councillor Bob McRoberts disavowed his approval of the September 14th motion at the September 29, 2010 Council meeting and stated on October 14, 2010 on Rogers TV First Local News, “The arguments presented by town staff and council members didn’t match my understanding of the Municipal Act. I do not agree with the rationale provided. I do not agree that the matter is a matter for Council”.

I have to ask – what would have happened to the Town of Aurora if this past Council were to have directed other external contractors “to take any and all actions” for litigation against land developers in Aurora or for the repair to all roads or to improving Aurora’s water and sewage systems or to providing recreation facilities?

I believe that there is still much to be disclosed to the citizens of Aurora so that we can all understand how Phyllis Morris v. Johnson et al was authorized by the Town of Aurora. I should think that the answers would be simple and straight forward.


Paul Sesto

Posted in Community Input, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Guest Post, Integrity, Leadership, Legal, Town Council | 30 Comments »

Former Mayor Morris Legal Bills to Town Approaching $70,000

Posted by auroracitizen on February 16, 2011

Mayor Dawe indicated last week that legal bills that have been billed to the Town for the lawsuit by ex-mayor Phyllis Morris are approaching $70,000.

Council is looking for ways to avoid forcing taxpayers to pay for these expenses in what is seen by many as an abuse of power and inappropriate use of tax payers funds.

After a lengthy closed session last Tuesday, Aurora has retained lawyer George Rust-D’Eye as legal counsel to determine the town’s responsibility for the legal bills associated with former mayor Phyllis Morris’ $6-million legal action against 3 private citizens.

Mr. Rust-D’Eye has been charged with examining the Sept. 14 council decision that led to the lawsuit and determining if the contract entered into with the law firm Aird and Berlis was valid.

“Quite frankly, the majority of council feels that this never should have happened in the first place,” Mr. Dawe said. “The town never should have been involved and, therefore, shouldn’t be paying for (the former mayor’s lawsuit).”

Of particular interest will be the impact the fact that Phyllis Morris participated in a discussion that lead a clear financial benefit which would appear to have put her in a clear conflict of interest according to the rules governing this type of behaviour.

The hope is Mr. Rust-D’Eye’s findings will result in the town not having to pay any of the former mayors legal bills. Mayor Dawe indicated that any legal costs connected to getting this legal opinion should be a small fraction of the potential savings.

Only Councillor Wendy Gaertner voted against this week’s motion.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest | 10 Comments »

Candidates Debate at Rogers TV

Posted by auroracitizen on September 30, 2010

Yesterday all 5 candidates for Mayor were in attendance at Rogers TV for the first of a number of scheduled interactions.

From what we hear it was a spirited affair – so be sure to look for it both on TV and online.

One of the stipulations was that each candidate was only allowed to bring 1 supporter. Phyllis Morris brought Ken Whitehurst.

Wasn’t that the same fellow awarded a $60,000 dollar job without  advertising the job so other members of the public could apply — per town recruitment policies — and who also sat on the committee that created the job?

Hmmmm? Just asking.

Also, don’t forget to attend the all-candidates event at the Town Hall this Sunday starting at 2 pm, presented by the Library Board.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Integrity, Leadership | 2 Comments »

Does Phillis Morris Have Historical Issues Meeting Deadlines?

Posted by auroracitizen on September 1, 2010

After an election each candidate has a specific period of time to submit their campaign expenses for public review. Many will recall that in Vaughan this led to some issues being raised about whether campaign expenses were handled appropriately.

Candidate financial statements are public documents and available for viewing or to make copies by any person at the Town Hall during regular business hours. The deadline for submitting statements is clearly identified in the candidates handbook and is legislated as part the Municipal Elections Act.

Consequences for not submitting on time include forfeiting the office you have been elected to. Pretty serious stuff.

Historically the deadline is the last Friday in March the year after the election. This year it will be Friday March 25th, 2011 — 5 months after the election.

Last election (2006) Nigel Kean submitted his expenses March 1, 2007, Tim Jones submitted his expenses March 26, 2007. Both within the designated time limits before the end of March 2007.

Nigel spent $8,875.81 — $3,832 from donations — the balance self funded.

Tim spent $30,628.56 — $27,620 from donations.

So you are probably wondering where Phyllis Morris’ expenses are. Well, she finally submitted them Feb 14, 2008. Almost 1 year past the deadline. Apparently hitting deadlines is not a new issue with Phyllis.

Phyllis spent $24,783.55, of which $5,750 was from donations.

It’s also interesting to see who is financially supporting which candidates. Some names you might recognize from Phyllis’s contributors list;

  • Guy Poppe
  • Ken Whitehurst (in kind)
  • Suzanne Whitehurst
  • CSB Communications (Chris Ballard’s company)
  • Gary Fernandez (Susan Walmers Husband)

Just thought you would find this interesting.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Freedom of Information, Leadership | 15 Comments »

Role of Developers in an Election

Posted by auroracitizen on August 12, 2010

Growth is often raised as a significant issue in any election campaign. Politician who cosy up to developers have sometimes been rejected by citizens because of this relationship and the concern that campaign contributions by the developers may influence projects that stand to net the developers significant profits.

To be clear, there is nothing illegal or inappropriate about a developer making a contribution to a campaign. It is within their rights to make a donation according the election guidelines — the same as any other citizen or business.

However, the public sometimes holds a different view. They are concerned about the potential appearance of a conflict of interest.

One of our readers asked the question about whether a candidate should answer a question whether his or her campaign is sponsored directly or indirectly by a developer or any entity seeking development approval from the town.

We are assuming they meant before the election — because all contributions must be declared after the election — but that would be too late to have the information as a voter which may influence your vote.

Sounded like a good question. So what are your thoughts.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Community Input, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Integrity | 4 Comments »

Community Input: Was Ad Electioneering?

Posted by auroracitizen on April 28, 2010

Received from a reader. If someone can send along a PDF or even identify the issue we will provide a link or publish the information.

Perhaps you could help me.

At tonight’s Aurora Council meeting, Councillor Buck raised some questions about a large ad in a recent Era-Banner issue concerning Aurora’s successes with economic development. I remember reading the ad since it was spread over 2 pages, although it would be about 1 page in total space.

At the time it struck me as being a bit strange, since it didn’t seem to have a real focus and there were mistakes (though minor in nature) in it that I thought shouldn’t have slipped into it. From a marketing point of view it seemed to be put together in haste, though that’s just my personal opinion.

When Councillor Buck mentioned tonight that she was raising these questions as she had concerns from other citizens and it had a flavour of “electioneering”, I thought I would like to take a second look. Unfortunately I didn’t keep my copy.

Would anyone connected with the Aurora Citizen still have a copy that they might be able to scan the 2 pages and provide it as a pdf file for 2nd reading? I unfortunately don’t know the issue date but I remember that it had a blue background and was on the lower half of each page with a number of photos of new construction.

Thanks for any help that you can provide.

The following were supplied by a reader. The ad was published April 15. Click on image to view as larger size.

Posted in Community Corner, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Town Council | 20 Comments »

Did She or Didn’t She?

Posted by auroracitizen on April 22, 2010

Much debate in the local coffee shops about whether Mayor Phyllis Morris lied when she said she didn’t “recall anyone asking to come and plant trees on town property”, when in fact it was later identified that Tom Taylor had spent over 1 hour discussing the issue with her before being told “NO” it conflicted with her own Mayor’s Litter day.

A couple of issues.

  1. Did she lie? And does this call into question past statements and her overall integrity? To date Phyllis has been very careful with her words. “I never read blogs”, but yet she knows everything about them because she has someone else read them and tell what is in them. If this is true then she is legally correct —  but morally and ethically corrupt. Clearly Councillors are reading them, so are we to believe that she never discusses them with her fellow Rat Packers. Will our Integrity Commissioner be asked to investigate?
  2. Should she as Mayor allow her own feelings toward Tim Jones to influence her decision-making on behalf of the tow — many of whom supported and voted for Tim for many years. Phyllis has spent considerable town dollars trying to find dirt on Mayor Jones — unsuccessfully it would appear because she has never brought any findings forward. Most people “in the know” are fully aware of these feelings. However, this latest move by Phyllis clearly demonstrates her personal feelings are getting in the way of Town business. Not the kind of leadership we need.

Is this the first time we have caught Phyllis Morris twisting the truth to suit her own needs? Probably not, we’ll see come election time.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Election 2010, Integrity, Leadership | 7 Comments »

News Flash: Sher St. Kitts Resigns from Farmers Market

Posted by auroracitizen on April 20, 2010

We heard the following a few days ago — but didn’t publish until we were able to confirm through a number of sources. Full details are still pending so send in what you know.

Sher St. Kitts has resigned from the Farmers Market because demands for payment were not approved by the larger committee.

Much has been made about the reasons for St. Kitts devotion to fund-raising here in Aurora (as a resident of Snowball) and her strong personal relationship with Mayor Phyllis Morris. Questions have been posed about the perceived conflict of interest of her running events which her family has received benefit versus allowing other residents of Aurora to share equally.

 The issue of financial compensation for what is historically volunteer work seems to raise the question about any previous “volunteer” work by St Kitts and what the Mayor approved?

This incestuous relationship has been troublesome from the beginning. Potentially we will start to better understand the basis for this unusual relationship as this situation unfolds.

Posted in Code of Ethics, Conflict of Interest, Integrity, Leadership, Town Council | 4 Comments »