The organization in charge of dealing with complaints against municipal officials in Quebec has dismissed a case against Grenville-sur-la-Rouge mayor John Saywell, concluding “no serious proof” of ethical violations was found.
The allegations related to the funding of the Club Equestre d’Argenteuil. The complaint said Saywell voted in his own interest when he supported giving up to $15,000 to the club, because he would be able to access a new path proposed by the club from his home, and his wife and daughter were on the board of the club. He was also accused of receiving $45,000 for consulting work for the club, and of supporting its project because he intends to run a bed and breakfast from his home.
The commission’s decision said if the allegations are accurate, Saywell could be guilty of ethics violations, but no proof was found which could “establish the veracity of these allegations.”
The decision says the path in question wouldn’t pass directly by Saywell’s property, although it would be within walking distance – but a lot of residents are in a similar situation, it said. And, while Saywell’s wife and daughter are indeed on the board of the club, supporting an initiative that benefits the club isn’t necessarily a conflict of interest, says the decision, which was published on October 5. The allegation Saywell received payment for consulting from the club hasn’t been proven, says the decision, and there’s no evidence he would benefit from part of the trail being built on his property. The conclusion of the commission was that ultimately, “there is no serious proof” available that would allow the commission to conclude that Saywell lacked professional ethics.
The decision also underlines that in order for the commission to find that an official lacked ethics, the proof has to be “clear, precise, serious…and unambiguous.” An independent investigator was unable to find proof that meets that criteria, according to the decision.
A press release issued by Grenville-sur-la-Rouge says the municipality “deplores” how much time was spent on the case – it says GSLR’s CAO Jean-Francois Bertrand spent “numerous hours” gathering documents requested by the commission.
The local government is also unhappy about the cost associated with the case – it says it will have to pay $5,000 in legal fees associated with the case, “in addition to the 30,000$ that the Municipality has already extended to cover the legal fees of other elected officials in a defamation lawsuit brought by Mr. Le Gris in Superior Court, a lawsuit that Mr. Le Gris abruptly abandoned last August 4, an abandonment confirmed by Judge Michaud.”
The release also says the municipality is “happy” for the decision’s reasoning. “The families of numerous council members are actively involved in community centres, the food bank, libraries, the food drive, and the children’s Christmas party, among others,” says the release, suggesting that these are organizations that the council might vote to give money to.