Municipal Conflict of Interest Act


November 7, 2016

The strange, unprecedented and unacceptable behaviour of Councillor Ruth Nishikawa has brought new focus to the good governance of the Township of Muskoka Lakes, particularly over the term of the present Council. In our opinion, it has threatened to tarnish the reputation of the Township and sully all the good intentions and accomplishments of this Council, which are considerable.

As we have previously reported, in June Councillor Nishikawa was found guilty by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice for “unlawful and malicious actions” in defaming former Councillor Brent, having refused to publicly apologize when offered the chance by the plaintiff. That refusal meant that the $30,000.00 damages plus a substantial amount of legal costs awarded were paid out by the Township insurance company. This could result in a higher premium next year.  Our September 2016 Township Watch reported on a resolution that was carried in Open Session of Council.  The resolution stated that Councillor Nishikawa be required to pay back to the Township the insurance deductible of $25,000.00.   The recorded vote was not unanimous, as one might have thought because of the Court’s guilty verdict, but carried 5 to 4.

Councillor Nishikawa sat at the Council table and did not recuse herself.  To make matters worse, Councillor Nishikawa then participated in the vote, even after being informed that her wish to abstain, as per council policy, would be recorded as a “nay” vote on the resolution.

Obviously concerned about the optics and loss of respect that the public might have for the ethics and integrity of all elected officials, the Mayor put forward two new resolutions to mitigate any negative impact and reduce the Councillor’s contact with the public in a position of authority.  In recorded votes 5 to 4 in favour for each resolution, Councillor Nishikawa was removed from the Parks & Trails Committee, and as revolving Chair of the Committee of the Whole. 

Every Councillor is educated on the details of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act and it is their own responsibility as to whether they declare a pecuniary conflict of interest.  As Councillor Nishikawa did not declare her pecuniary interest in the resolution regarding the repayment of the insurance deductible of $25,000.00, did not leave the council table and abstained from the vote, her actions have possibly placed her in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.  On October 28th, Mayor Don Furniss, on his own volition, filed a civil proceeding against Councillor Nishikawa at the Bracebridge courthouse.  The case is to be heard on December 12th, 2016.

Summary

At this point, we await the outcome of the upcoming legal proceedings. We do not begin to understand the actions and decisions made by the Councillor, but do question Councillor Nishikawa’s judgement.

There was a huge response from our members after our latest News Update. We are always very pleased to hear from you!

Liz Denyar

President - Muskoka Ratepayers' Association

 

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