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Archive: Lewis refuses to acknowledge conflict

Originally published Nov. 25, 2005
Councillor Tom Lewis was called to account for his conflict of interest in discussions of the Bridgeburg Neighbourhood Plan Monday night.

It was the second time in a month that councillor Paul Fell noted Lewis’ conflict.

His conflict originates with his employment with Avalon Consulting Professionals of Ontario, the planning firm working on the Ambassador bridge proposal in Bridgeburg.

The councillor for Crystal Beach declared his conflict on Sept. 6, but in subsequent meetings he has been vociferously discouraging a community planning study in Bridgeburg.

One of the major issues indicated by attendees at two open houses on the plan held Oct. 18 and Nov. 3 is the effect of the proposed bridge on the neighbourhood.

Fell broached the topic of his conflict Oct. 24 after Lewis tried to pin one on Mayor Wayne Redekop.

“At one point in time, councillor Lewis declared a conflict on the whole Bridgeburg issue because of his association with Avalon,” he said. “So is a conflict not a continuing thing?”

Redekop saved Lewis from answering by saying it’s inappropriate for councillors “to cross-examine each other about this particular issue” because they are responsible for declaring their own conflicts.

“Although if it’s patently obvious . . . we tend to remind each other as a matter of courtesy,” he said. “Let your conscience be your guide. Or seek legal advice if you’re not sure about your conscience.”

Fell left it at that, saying he didn’t want to see council meetings “degenerate into a debate on who has a conflict.”

He continued: “I don’t intend to pursue the point I just made, and I would assume Coun. Lewis doesn’t intend to pursue his point.”

The point Lewis tried to make — in asking a series of questions, the logic of which remains obscured — was that Redekop had a conflict of interest on the Bridgeburg study because he had declared a conflict on an official plan amendment in September to expand the urban area north of Bridgeburg to include all the area east of Thompson Road to the river — an area where the mayor lives.

He also suggested the mayor is conflicted because he is named in a lawsuit against the Town, along with former Mayor John Teal and the estate of Mike Anderson over the rejection a couple of years ago of a development proposal in the area north of Bridgeburg.

Redekop answered his questions:

• A lawsuit does not preclude members of council from participating in deliberations on specific issues, otherwise anyone with a litigious bent could paralyze a municipality;

• His property is within the proposed official plan amendment area and so he declared a pecuniary interest on the matter;

• His property is not within the boundaries of the Bridgeburg study so he properly did not declare a conflict.

Following that, Redekop saved Lewis from answering Fell (“since we’re on the issue of conflicts”) about his Bridgeburg study conflict — nor did Lewis volunteer a statement.

His silence was unusual as silence is not something Lewis is known for — even challenging Redekop’s rulings. This was one he chose not to challenge.

Redekop’s interjection was a magnanimous toss of a lifeline that he did not extend a month later.

He did so Oct. 24 because questions go through the chairman — and the mayor is the chairman during regular council meetings.

During council-in-committee sessions the mayor merely participates in committee meetings that are chaired by other members of council.

That was the case Monday when councillor Ric Gorham acted as chairman of the planning and development services committee.

Lewis picked up a gooey, warm, wet glob of feces and let fly squarely into the wind.

He went at Fell. He went at councillor Rick Shular, and he went at the mayor.

“I do not understand who is asking for a study in Bridgeburg. I don’t know how it ended up going there in the first place. Who is pulling the strings?”

Why Lewis does not understand is a matter of speculation. The reasons have been espoused clearly many times in writing and verbally by planning director Rino Mostacci.

First, it’s merely a matter of choice, but the choice is weighted by the fact the province has emphasized intensification and development of previously developed but underused properties (called brownfields — think the old Pratt and Lambert property, think railway property). As well, the commercial area is declining, and a study provides a forum for residents and business to participate and look at ways to turn it around.

However, at that point Gorham called him out of order because the matter had been decided and Lewis was not in a position to raise it for reconsideration because he had opposed it in the vote Oct. 3.

But not before he named Shular and Fell in “overlooking 20 years of feces invasion in Crescent Park” in going forward with a Bridgeburg study.

“That’s one reason why I’m questioning why Bridgeburg when we have important infrastructure problems in a neighbourhood that severely needs it.”

He said construction of the Frenchman’s Creek Regional sewer will make the Bridgeburg study a “waste of taxpayer’s dollars.”

The Regional project will divert some flows from Crescent Park, address capacity problems in Bridgeburg, open up the Spears Road neighbourhood for development and empty into the Anger Avenue sewer plant. Its environmental study was completed recently and the 30-day public review period began Nov. 23.

Lewis failed to mention the Crescent Park benefits in his monologue in which he also noted that council had made Crescent Park drainage problems a priority.

“The second thing, councillor Shular, last week you told us you and the mayor were experts on the biggest project to hit Fort Erie in the last 78 years — the building of the new Peace Bridge,” Lewis said.

He continued, “This project is going to create jobs, stimulate the economy, bring trucks in greater numbers than before, possibly expand the Canadian plaza to 100 acres and bring U.S. Customs to Fort Erie. All of this when Shared Border Management comes to reality.”

The reality is this: Avalon’s client, the Ambassador Niagara Signature Bridge Group, wants to build a bridge in Fort Erie’s north end at the railway bridge. Representatives of the parent company which owns the Ambassador Bridge in Windsor said they want to take over control and ownership of the Peace Bridge.

Another reality comes from his claim in May that he had no conflict of interest during deliberations of a report about the mid-Pen highway (now called the Niagara-GTA) proposal.

“This report doesn’t name the Ambassador: it doesn’t name the PBA (Peace Bridge Authority),” he said then. “At this point I don’t see a problem.”

The report under discussion Nov. 21 states as an issue, “concerns re: Ambassador Bridge proposal and its effect on the community.”

Clearly visible — or it should be by now — is the conflict of interest Lewis has on the Bridgeburg neighbourhood plan study.

He also threw in a hand grenade — the source of which is a complete fabrication.

“Are the residents of the south end willing to lose the Central Avenue ramp without comment.”

In point of fact, the Central Avenue ramp is not going anywhere. The source is the Ministry of Transport wants to erect signs directing vehicles to Hwy. 3 via Thompson Road. The Central Avenue ramp will remain as the first entry to the Garrison Road business district and Bridgeburg.

Facts aside, it’s for these reasons, Lewis said, south end Fort Erie needs a neighbourhood plan before Bridgeburg.

He further rationalized his opposition to the study noting Ridgeway is undergoing development growth that will create further demands on infrastructure.

Yet, he voted to approve construction of model homes as part of a proposed subdivision plan that the planning department is processing and which has not been finalized and submitted to council.

The logical extension of Lewis’ Ridgeway concern would be to deny the subdivision application until a neighbourhood plan is complete and, in advance of that, deny the model home application, if only to save the developer the construction costs associated with a plan that may not conform with a future neighbourhood plan.

“I wonder if some councillors don’t seem to be as interested in the other wards as others (councillors).”

A few eyeballs rolled up in their sockets at that one, providing Fell with some fuel for a burning question.

He sought clarification on the neighbourhoods Lewis referred to and also said:

“Councillor Lewis declared a conflict on this whole issue at a prior meeting. I appreciate the fact that (he) is so concerned about the residents of Crescent Park and constantly points out that nobody seems to be representing them, but I would suggest — while I don’t want to lower myself to the level of past performances and charge people with conflicts — I will hark back to the statement, ‘Let your conscience be your guide’.”

Lewis answered the question about the neighbourhoods, and “Can I ask what the second question was, because there was two.”

Wrong. There was only one question plus a statement of fact and advice. Fell did not repeat the statement.

Lewis packed up his laptop computer shortly afterward and left the meeting at 7:45 p.m., an hour before adjournment.

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