Councillor Voakes to be reimbursed for ‘Conflict of Interest’ case legal fees

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by Sylene Argent
Essex Council voted in favour of having administration draft a bylaw that would reimburse Councillor Randy Voakes for legal fees incurred when he was brought to Superior Court of Ontario.

A resident, Essex Mayor Ron McDermott, submitted the application, alleging Voakes was in Conflict of Interest at the September 5 regular Council meeting, for the court to rule upon.

The Superior Court Judge found Voakes was not in Conflict of Interest. At the Tuesday, April 3 regular Council meeting, Voakes asked Council to first put the issue on the agenda as a “New Business” item, and further asked Council move that he be reimbursed for his fees.

Mayor McDermott removed himself from his chair during discussion and voting on the issue.

“It went before a judicial system to determine whether or not I was in Conflict of Interest, and through the process, it was clearly proven that I wasn’t in Conflict of Interest. I did nothing wrong in terms of rules of Conflict of Interest…So, that being said, I’m just obviously asking Council, recognizing I did absolutely nothing wrong as a Councillor for the residents of Town of Essex, I’m asking that I receive remuneration reimbursement for my [legal] fees,” Voakes said.

Clerk, Rob Auger, said that through the Conflict of Interest Act, there is opportunity for reimbursement. He needed Council to direct administration to come back to Council with a bylaw.

“This is quite an unfortunate situation,” Councillor Ron Rogers said, adding the court may have found Voakes not in Conflict of Interest, “however, I want to make it very clear, that in the court of the public opinion, both you gentlemen have done great harm to this Council in the past. In the court of public opinion, that won’t go away…I want to make it very clear that you have brought ridicule and shame to this Council over the last couple of years,” he said. He did support the motion.

Councillor Larry Snively agreed with Rogers in that it is unfortunate the situation went as far as it did. “I have been sitting here for three-and-a-half years and seen a lot of friction.

“I hate to tell ratepayers to their face, it is costing them $12,800 for lawyer fees,” Snively said. “And it’s a shame, it’s a shame, it’s a shame for people to act the way they did through the three-and-a-half years. I hope to hell we can change it and move on. We have seven more months in this term left.

“This Council has done some very good things, but I will tell you one thing, there’s been a lot of damage done.”

Voakes said, “There comes a certain time and a certain place in your municipal governance…you got to stand up, you got to be responsible for your actions. I am committed to Council, I am committed to administration, I am committed to the Town of Essex, that that Randy Voakes you know as a stern, firm Councillor is not going away…but my approaches are going to change.”

The case was filed in regards to the September 5 Regular Council meeting, when the Integrity Commissioner presented his report that investigated claims against Voakes. Deputy Mayor Richard Meloche had moved the recommendation in the report, that Voakes’s Council remuneration be suspended for two months, and Councillor Steve Bjorkman seconded it.

After it was passed unanimously, Voakes then went to speak, saying he had questions for the Integrity Commissioner. He later said he wanted to ask if he could appeal the decision or donate the money to charity.

Councillor Bjorkman then called a Point of Order, saying the issue was done. McDermott agreed with Bjorkman, saying he had asked if there were any questions before the vote on the issue.

Voakes and McDermott then argued as to whether or not Voakes should be allowed to speak to the issue. McDermott gave Voakes a verbal warning, then further asked him to leave the meeting. A recess was then taken.