Extortion?

Jul 7, 2016

It could be the plot line for a blockbuster movie…

A Municipal Councillor and her husband, Chair of a municipal committee file a lawsuit against their Municipality with allegations of obstruction and undue influence in an investigation, abuse of power, breach of trust, fraudulent misrepresentation, cover-ups, a mayor acting outside the scope of his role, deception, criminal intent, breach of trust, fraudulent misrepresentation, conspiracy to defraud, leaking of information to media, hate mail…


 

On June 20th, 2016, a legal proceeding was undertaken against the Municipality of Wawa. The Notice of Application will be heard today, Thursday, July 7th at 10:00 a.m. at the Sault Ste. Marie Superior Court of Justice and was filed by Tamara Liddle, Councillor and Gerry Liddle, Chair Strategic Plan Implementation Committee.

On June 17th, 2016 (in a Special Council Meeting, in camera) a letter written by Councillor Liddle advised her fellow council members that requests had been made for investigations to be made by the OPP Anti-Racket (Anti-Fraud) Unit, Ontario Ombudsman, and special support from the Ontario Ministry of Municipal Affairs & Housing and the Attorney General’s office (for Public Enquiries).

In her letter, Liddle asks for support that the presentation of an investigation be deferred as there is the belief that the investigator and the investigation has been compromised. Her belief is that Chris Wray, Paul Cassan and Gord Acton have unduly influenced the investigation and attempted to fix the outcome, “The evidence is substantial and has been given to the authorities. I seek to have the allegations examined by them.”

The investigation report referred to would contain findings about both her and Mr Liddle, and the filing of the civil law suit could be viewed as an attempt at extorting the Municipality to comply with their demands, through threats described in their filing.

The resignation of Mayor Rody is also asked for during this investigation. Citing concerns that the Mayor ‘participated in and abided the improper and manipulative actions of Chris Wray and the Wishart lawyers. As such, his conduct also need to be investigated.’

“A thorough investigation is needed into the now substantial evidence trail that I am confident shows that Mr. Wray and Wishart conspired in a complex weave of steps to not only manipulate the outcome of the investigation, but to try to prevent it in the first place.

These alleged steps include providing false and misleading information to Council, manipulating in-camera matters, abuse of the in-camera rules, improperly trying to force a conflict-of-interest declaration on myself, uttering threats of legal action and harassment charges against individual Council members, illegally preventing our recorded vote of Council (to replace Wishart), using coercion to block the legislated rights of Council members to legal advice and finally, direct on-going influence and/or manipulation of the Norpro investigation by giving direction to Bob Kates.”

The letter goes on to say that Wray has attacked her (Liddle personally) as well as Councillors Chiasson and Morrison, “With malicious intent and fraudulently misrepresenting information, including filing a false harassment claim, Mr. Wray, with Wishart’s help, took multiple steps in a complex weave of deception over a series of months. I believe the evidence is overwhelming.”

The letter continues, and at the end, “Should Council decide to adopt the proposed resolution to remove Wishart on its own, my husband and I will withdraw the Application.”

It is certainly agreed that these are ‘extremely serious allegations’, and Councillor Liddle states that, ‘all accused, including Mayor Rody should to be immediately removed from their active administrative roles so we can assure the taxpayers that a fair, impartial and unhampered investigation can happen. With respect to Mr. Wray, as outlined further, and independent of the outcome of any criminal investigation, Council should have no alternative but to immediately undertake a formal Disciplinary Review of his employment contract, and as may be required, termination of his employment for cause.”

A recommendation to have Wishart Law Firm replaced, also pending the outcome of the investigations was made. “I believe Council needs to be reminded that the allegations against the Wishart firm go beyond the concern they manipulated and interfered in the Norpro investigation. As will be fully reviewed by the authorities, we are asking that the Wishart lawyers and Mr. Wray be investigated for a possible conspiracy to defraud the taxpayers of Wawa through the payment of excessive and unwarranted legal fees.”

“In addition, we have reason to suspect that Wishart was conflicted in acting as lawyers for both Mr. Wray and the Municipality during his employment contract negotiations. I see this clearly as a conflict-of-interest, and as such a major violation of Wishart’s duty to the Municipality. Aside from a complaint to the Law Society, Wishart’s conduct raises serious questions regarding the very enforceability of the employment contract and added liability on the Municipality and taxpayers. I have learned that the full terms of the employment contract may not have been properly disclosed to all Council members, further breaching our Municipal by-laws.”

“I am most disturbed by the notion that Wishart may have been motivated to play both sides because of the favorable positioning it would put them in for lucrative fees charged to the Municipality approved by Mr. Wray going forward. The forensic audit will help us understand these events. I believe we owe it to the taxpayers to ensure that improper activity or potential misappropriation of public funds has not taken place. “

“Within this scope, I am asking that the forensic examination also help us determine the details and nature of the highly unusual level of legal fees in regard to the failed ‘Facebook’ lawsuit that were charged to the Municipality by the Wishart firm (apparently in excess of $1 million) and arranged by Mr. Wray.”

“I have also received information that causes me to be deeply concerned that members of our community may have been unfairly targeted and victimized by the lawsuit and will ask that these matters be looked into as well.”

Councillor Liddle states that she has spoken with the Mr. Brian Searle of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and received recommendations of law firms for a short list to be approved by council: Hicks Morley (Toronto), Weaver Simmons (Sudbury), and Barriston’s Law (Barrie). It is noted that both have offered to immediately provide proposals to Council.

Councillor Liddle also wishes to present a resolution to suspend CAO/Clerk Treasurer pending a Disciplinary Review, “I will present a ‘Summary of Complaint’ with respect to the alleged conduct of Mr. Wray at the Special Meeting. This is the written summary that was requested in the Norpro investigation that I and my husband Gerry were reluctant to provide Mr. Kates. The complaint document details our concerns and supporting information with respect to the alleged abuse of power, breach of trust, obstruction of justice, fraudulent misrepresentation and conspiracy to defraud.”

“You should also be aware that I believe Mr. Wray has also maliciously interfered in my personal affairs and attempted to damage our personal property. Again, I believe his motivation has, and continues to be, to harm and discredit his accusers.”

Councillor Liddle states that she estimates the payroll expense of Mr. Wray to be in excess of $300,000 a year. “calculating a $153,000 base salary (per sunshine list – April 2016), statutory contributions, pension contribution (estimated 60%), employee benefits, personal and professional development costs, association fees, conferences, seminars, entertainment expenses. travel and other allowances. This total may not fully include legal expenses (eg. Paliare Roland) or other like ‘taxable benefit’ costs related to his employment. As such, his direct cost to the taxpayers of Wawa may be well in excess of $400,000 annually. That range has him making more money than most provincial premiers.”

Question is also made of his time away from the office. She states that she has also learned details of his employment contract including a severance package that would cost ‘well in excess of $1 million.’

The letter continues with more allegations without providing any evidence for the court to consider (please read the documents below).

At the end, Councillor Liddle and her husband, Gerry in his official capacity as Chairman of the Strategic Plan Implementation Committee, have filed this “Application Record requiring the Wishart firm to step down as our Municipal lawyers and new counsel retained. The Municipality is the Respondent. This measure has also been taken by us, to ensure that Wawa’s Municipal operations are not overly impacted by these matters.”

“We are asking the Court to consider the vote (3-2) of Council taken during the Special Meeting of Council (in-camera) of December 10th. Should Wishart recuse themselves voluntarily, we will withdraw the Application.”

It seems easy, Council should dismiss Wishart – and the whole thing will just go away.

The application continues with the document outlining the suggested scope for an investigator. Mr. Wray alleges that both Councillor Liddle and husband, Gerry Liddle are harassing him with the intended result of the termination of his employment all out of a personal pecuniary interest and in violation of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, the Code of Conduct, and Councillor Liddle’s Oath of Office and duty as a Council Member. The investigation undertook by Councillor Liddle is said to have be outside of the scope of her authority and duty. It is also noted that ‘Mr. Liddle’s complaint references what transpired at an in camera meeting, which gives rise to the inference that his wife, Councillor Liddle, provided information to him pertaining to that meeting in violation of her duties, in order to form the basis for Mr. Liddle’s Complaint.”. Further allegations of Conflict of Interest, Code of Conduct and Oath of Office violations have been made because Councillor Liddle has improperly attended, and participated in and/or voting on matters pertaining to both the Wray and Liddle complaints.

The Municipality of Wawa, Mayor Ron Rody filed a Responding Affidavit on June 27th. This lengthy document begins with a biography of Mayor Ron Rody. He has served our community for 14 years as a councillor, and Mayor for two. He moved to Wawa to teach at St. Joseph’s elementary school in 1970 and before retiring was principal for two years.

His affidavit is lengthy and is very educational. It lays out information to help the court understand the context and motivation of the Liddles.

Beginning with the search for the new CAO, Councillor (at that time) Rody served on the Executive Committee. He details the 17 month search for a replacement CAO by a Toronto consulting firm. There were two rounds of applicants of which 10-12 were interviewed. During the first round there was a successful applicant who declined the offer. In the second round, CAO of Muskoka Lakes TWP, Chris Wray applied to the position. The other applicant was offered the position, who declined it; allowing the Municipality to offer it to Mr. Wray. Contract negotiations took place. The contract was similar, but not identical. This time it included an increase in his severance package if he was let go, and a yearly CPI increase; all other terms were essentially the same. After all terms were agreed to, they were taken to and approved in an Open Council Meeting. In order to save the Municipality money, Wishart Law Firm LLP was used by both parties. (Editor’s Note: This can happen if both parties agree, much like when Mr. Allemano assists the seller and buyer of a house in Wawa. A statement is made and both parties agree.)

Facebook

Mayor Rody also addresses the cost referenced by Councillor Liddle in the “Facebook Lawsuit”. In 2010, the Municipal computer system was hacked and a number of documents were removed from the servers including personal information belonging to employees and Council members and Taxpayer information. Some document were published on a Facebook Page admitted by an alias ‘Manny Issues’ and others. An investigator was hired, and during the investigation a smear campaign began against then Mayor Linda Nowicki, CAO Chris Wray, Wawa staff and Councillors. Three years later, the perpetrator of the hacking, Facebook posts and smear campaign was identified. In 2014, a successful resolution of this matter was made, ‘Minutes of Settlement were executed in which they agreed, inter alia, to pay costs, return Wawa’s stolen documents, delete all copies of these documents they had made, and cease the smear campaign.’ This cost approximately $96,000; not the $1 million plus that is stated in the Notice of Application by Councillor Liddle or heard about town occasionally. What was not mentioned was the responsibility of the municipality to investigate and determine the source and extent of the access and the protection of staff and taxpayer information, including false allegations and harassment of staff as described under the Ontario Health and Safety Act.

Tax Arrears

Mayor Rody notes that there is an outstanding balance on their (Tamara and Gerry Liddle) in the amount of $70,074.64. Of that balance, interest and arrears is $20,782.40, there was a tax payment of $500 on November 2, 2015.

On October 26th, 2015 a letter was received from Gerry Liddle requesting assistance to him and his wife regarding the impending registration of tax arrears on their property located at 120 Pinewood Drive. Given that Mrs. Liddle is a councillor, Council sought advice from Wishart – who recommended that no special privileges be extended to the Liddles. Mayor Rody outlines for the court the process that all property owners in Wawa undergo if their municipal taxes are in arrears and then registered for tax arrears. He noted that there were 24 other properties registered at the same time, and ‘The Liddle’s received the same treatment as all the owners of these other properties.”

On November 12th, another letter from Gerry Liddle was received – this letter requested that Mr. Wray be suspended on the basis of a number of allegations. Mayor Rody shared this letter verbally with Councillors Besner, Chiasson and Morrison, and the letter was sent to legal counsel for advice.

Rody’s affidavit states that he became aware of a meeting between Mr. Liddle and Mr. Wray, with the outcome that they would be treated the same as all other members of the community with respect to the registration of tax arrears. “I believe that Mr. Liddle’s allegations and request to suspend Mr. Wray contained in his November 12, 2015 letter was a reprisal for Mr. Wray not extending the Liddle’s the special treatment Mr. Liddle requested during their November 1, 2015 meeting and an attempt to extort accedence to this request.”

Two days after the letter asking for his suspension – Mr. Wray submitted a letter of complaint to Mayor Rody in regards to a Workplace Harassment Allegation against the Liddles. Further letters were received on November 20, 28 and December 3, 2015 detailing further specific allegations of harassment after his initial letter of complaint.

Council met and passed a resolution to have the complaints of both Mr. Liddle and Mr. Wray be investigated by an independent third party.

The investigation was conducted by Norpro Security and Investigations, Bob Kates. Mayor Rody explained that he has been informed by Mr. Kates and “verily believe that the Liddles refused to participate in the investigation, have not provided substantiating information to Mr. Kates and have not provided information to him with respect to the accusations made in their complaint letter.”

Mr. Kates attended before Council at its June 17’h, 2016 meeting. At that meeting Mr. Kates sought to give Council copies of his report and review his findings with Council.

“Notwithstanding that Mr. Kates’ report directly dealt with the complaint made by the Liddles against Mr. Wray which, as noted above, I believe arises out of the Municipality’s enforcement of the Liddle’s tax arrears  and Mr. Wray’s harassment complaints against Liddles, Councillor Liddle did not declare a conflict of interest and refused to leave the meeting. As a result, the remaining non-conflicted councillors unanimously voted to adjourn the meeting to allow Council time to consider how best to proceed with receiving and considering Norpro’s report.”

Mayor Rody goes into a point by point refutation of the Notice of Application by Tamara and Gerry Liddle that readers can find at the bottom of the page.

The most troubling statements are that Councillor Liddle is threatening “that if Wawa continues with the enforcement of her and her husband’s unpaid taxes, that she will attempt to have charges pressed against Mr. Wray and possibly others as well.”

Similarly, at the bottom of page 8 and again at the bottom of page 9, extortive statements are made to the effect that “should Wishart recuse themselves voluntarily, we will withdraw the application”. And “should Council decide to adopt the proposed resolution to remove Wishart on its own, my husband and I will withdraw the application.” These statements evince the Liddles’ intent to use the civil and the criminal process to extort Municipal Council as well as our legal counsel.’

There is no evidence in the Notice of Application. No documents to support the claims made. The statement from Mayor Rody has numerous documents to support his response.

This matter will go before the Judge later this morning, at the Sault Ste. Marie Courthouse at 10 a.m. The public is able to attend.

How Press Gathers Court Information
Many readers will be aware of the publishing of information from court proceedings and court documents. What is not generally known is that any civil proceedings are open unless a judge declares otherwise, and the filings by each party can be easily obtained for a fee at the filing office. Daily filings can be checked easily by members of the press. When issues of public interest are discovered, the documents obtained provide information to support what is published.

Should someone wish to have a copy of the documents, they are available at the Courthouse with payment of $10 per document, and $1 per page.

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