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Originally published Oct. 17, 2005
“I have a problem not following through with my word,” said Councillor Tom Lewis at the Oct. 3 meeting of Fort Erie Town Council.

To twist it around some, not only does he have a problem with not following through with what he says he will do, he’s got a conflict of interest problem.

Tom Lewis said he would provide a report to councillors about his attendance at the Ontario Good Roads Association annual conference in Toronto when his attendance was approved by council last winter.

Paul Fell suggested it to assuage concerns that sending him to Toronto would be a waste of money when council approved expenditures up to $3,000 for Lewis’ junket and Ann-Marie Noyes’ attendance at the Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in May.

Some time had passed after the February OGRA conference, and I asked Fell if he got a report. He did not. So he asked Lewis in a council meeting if it was forthcoming.

Lewis mumbled something about since staff take six to eight weeks to file reports he would do so just as quickly.

Well, there we were, Oct. 3. No report. And Lewis was not mumbling. He was nearly pounding the table, full of rhetoric and bluster.

“I have a problem not following through with my word.”

This was not six to eight weeks later. This was eight months later.

That statement was made during a completely different discussion of the creation of a neighbourhood planning document for Bridgeburg. He was resoundingly opposed to it.

He had declared a conflict on the report when it was first brought to council Sept. 6.

His reason as recorded in the minutes is his employer — Avalon Consulting Professionals of Ontario — represents the Ambassador Bridge, Detroit International Bridge Company and the Canadian Transit Company.

What he did not say is that his client already has a plan for Bridgeburg and it includes a bridge across the Niagara River, a four-lane highway through the middle of north-end Fort Erie and development of brownfields in the area.

The Town’s plan for Bridgeburg may conflict with his client’s vision, and possible official plan and zoning amendments that result from the town’s study may interfere with his client’s development.

Instead of a plan for Bridgeburg, Lewis said on Oct. 3 — when he apparently felt free to speak on the topic — the people of Ridgeway were told that part of town would be next.

They were not “told” this. The Crystal Beach Neighbourhood Plan was stripped out of an idea for a broader plan for Ridgeway, Thunder Bay and the Beach.

The decision was made based on input from a public meeting held to define the scope of the plan. It was determined that Crystal Beach stood up on its own as a distinct neighbourhood.

That factor as well as the need to figure out what to do with the town’s $2-million investment in the Bay Beach property prompted the division and the process went forward for Crystal Beach.

He said he was being deluged about how Ridgeway was promised a neighbourhood plan, and he would know, the councillor for Crystal Beach said, from living in the “heart of Ridgeway” and having spoken with members of the Bert Miller Nature Club, the Beachcombers and Ridgeway businesspeople.

I haven’t been able to find the people during my inquiries who are expecting a neighbourhood plan. Nor have I seen the council reports or resolutions that Ridgeway was next.

Lewis has got the electioneering thing down pat. He would do himself, his ward and his community much better when he begins to understand what governance is.

He would also do well to be mindful of the minefield of conflicts of interest he laid for himself when he chose to represent the Ambassador Bridge in his career.

It’s not the first occasion he has skated on thin ice. Back in May, council received a report with regard to the mid-Pen corridor highway. The report clearly stated it had implications for “international bridges.” He did not declare a conflict.

He said afterward that if someone thinks he has a conflict, he can call him on it. The suggestion was that the onus is on third parties to determine his conflicts of interest.

He may have avoided falling through the ice the first time, but now he’s soaking wet.

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