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Survey Advocating Increased Police Budget Challenged Over Transparency, Error Issue

This telephone survey by Oraclepoll, conducted in October, aimed to gather opinions from 1,000 voting-age residents (18 years or older) on issues related to the 2023 City budget process. The results were included in the 54-page Report to the Finance and Responsible Governance Committee, which was presented on November 22, 2023.

The survey begins on page number 41 –

The report, significant for its potential impact on the City’s financial decisions, especially in light of Mayor Alex Nuttall and the majority of the council’s previous stance favoring increased police funding, was not discussed.

Oraclepoll Research Limited conducted the survey, which mistakenly identifies its client as the City of Guelph instead of the City of Barrie.

This error suggests either a typing mistake or the possibility that Oraclepoll may have based this report on a previous one made for Guelph. In such a case, the presence of other parts of the Guelph report in the Barrie report is uncertain, which casts doubts on the credibility of the survey.

Its release coincides with significant transparency concerns regarding Councillor Sergio Morales’ conflict of interest and the issues of equal information access and participation rights raised in light of Sept. 19 Community Safety Committee Public Meeting.

Morales declared his conflict of interest during the Oct. 18 General Committee Meeting, abstaining from a decision related to Pattison Outdoor Advertising’s billboard proposal for Metrolinx’s South Barrie Go Station due to a financial relationship. By Oct. 25, this conflict was resolved, and Morales successfully motioned a decision favoring Pattison. Morales and Mayor Nuttall have not responded to BCM’s inquiries regarding this resolution, and Integrity Commissioner Suzanne Craig cited confidentiality constraints in her inability to comment.

The city clerk, Wendy Cooke’s office, oversees the conflict of interest registry, which notably omits critical information like the names of the parties involved in the council members’ conflicts. For instance, Morales’ conflict with Pattison and Councillor Ann-Marie Kungl’s with the Barrie Colts are not explicitly stated. This lack of transparency undermines the registry’s purpose, leaving residents uninformed.

However, a 2019 conflict of interest registry did provide the name of the involved party, suggesting that the recent omission of such details could harm the council’s credibility. The declaration forms that were available in previous Conflict of Interest Registries have been removed and are now completely absent from the current registry, delivering another blow to residents’ right to know.

2023 Conflict of Interest Registry –

2019 Conflict of Interest Registry-

Commissioner Craig emphasized to Barrie Community Media the need for transparency and fulfilling the Municipal Act’s accountability objectives. Despite multiple follow-ups, Cooke’s office did not provide an explanation for the registry’s missing details. “While the registry is within the Clerk’s jurisdiction, as Integrity Commissioner, I must ensure that there is transparency and that the accountability intent of the Municipal Act is fulfilled,” she wrote in an email response.

This raises concerns about whether actions or the lack thereof by Cooke’s office interfere with the Integrity Commissioner’s ability to perform its duties. Such interference could potentially violate the Ontario Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and Section 228 of the Municipal Act, 2001, which govern the City Clerk’s office.

Our communication with Metrolinx revealed that they deferred to the Integrity Commission’s decision, which found no conflict of interest for Morales. However, based on Metrolinx’s Vendor Conflict of Interest Policy, we believe the situation merits a thorough investigation. This policy underlines shared responsibility, disclosure necessity, the Conflict Committee’s role in assessing and managing conflicts, managing bias, and vendors’ rights to debriefing and appeals. The case involving Pattison and Morales warrants a review by the Conflict Committee to determine if there is a conflict of interest, and if so, to decide the appropriate course of action. This could result in Pattison being disqualified from the procurement process if found to be in conflict.

Citizens have also raised other concerns regarding communications from Cooke’s office, crucial for public engagement in council affairs.

At the Sept. 19 Community Safety Committee Public Meeting in City Hall, residents were invited to voice their opinions on proposed by-laws restricting aid to the needy. After widespread criticism, the council abandoned these plans. However, the meeting’s organization drew criticism: initial speakers predominantly opposed support for the homeless and mentally ill, with supporters speaking later. Residents noted this imbalance during the meeting.

Scott LaMantia from Cooke’s office mentioned that meeting details were made public earlier than usual, with some requests for individual speakers and some for multiple. However, LaMantia did not clarify if any speakers were part of bulk requests, raising questions about the meeting’s legitimacy and potential interference in the council business.

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