An accusation of conflict of interest against Chatham-Kent Mayor Randy Hope has been dismissed.
Just days after hearing the case, Superior Court Justice Henry Vogelsang said Hope was not in a conflict of interest when he voted earlier this year to provide a $1.3-million grant to St. Clair College to develop a downtown educational facility at the former Capitol Theatre Annex building.
The building is owned by two numbered companies, Apollo Property Management and Apollo General Contracting of Blenheim.
Ian McLarty, who laid the accusation of conflict of interest, alleged the mayor’s daughter Melissa, the operations manager of Apollo General Contracting, will benefit from the grant.
In his decision, Vogelsang wrote that McLarty failed to establish a basis of his allegation triggered the section of the Conflict of Interest Act that required the mayor to disqualify himself from the vote.
On the vote in question, Vogelsang said council was discussing whether the municipality’s administration could enter into negotiations with St. Clair College on the terms of the grant, noting the motion had nothing to do with the numbered companies.
“Neither company was mentioned either in the motion or during the debate that preceded it,” he wrote.
Furthermore, Vogelsang said there was no guarantee that a purchase of the Annex would occur at the time of the vote.
“There was no certainty that St. Clair College would either receive any money from Chatham-Kent, or would purchase the Annex at any future time,” wrote Vogelsang.
“Assuming that St. Clair College received any grant money, the purchase of the Annex would have then been a matter exclusively as between St. Clair College and 181 (Apollo Property Management). Chatham-Kent would have had no role in this transaction.”
The judge also said he was not satisfied that Melissa Hope had any pecuniary interest in the matter related to the council vote, noting that it was only “fanciful” speculation that she stood to benefit.
Siding with a point made by Mayor Hope’s lawyer, the judge agreed that even if Apollo General Contracting were to eventually obtain a renovation contract for the Annex, any money received would represent only a very small part of the corporation’s annual receipts.
“There is nothing realistic or logical to support the further inference that recovery of any of that money would ultimately represent a financial benefit to Mr. Hope’s daughter,” said Vogelsang.
Mayor Hope said the judge’s decision confirms what he has said all along: there is no conflict of interest.
“The sad part is all the negative viewpoints and the accusations are now left in the public and how do you undo (that) after somebody has made those remarks,” said Hope, before adding it’s time to move on. “Now it’s just about continuing to build this community and get it back on its feet where it should be.”
McLarty, who said he wasn’t surprised by the decision, plans to obtain the court transcripts before considering his next steps.
“There are a number of things I have issue with and we’ll see. I definitely think there are clear grounds for appeal,” said McLarty.
In particular, McLarty took issue with the judge’s decision to disallow his intention to present evidence that was related to allegations against people other than the mayor.
“It depends now on how long it takes to get a hold of the transcripts and review it. I imagine a few weeks,” said McLarty on the timing of a possible appeal.
The Chatham Voice has uploaded the judge’s full report to Scribd for public viewing.