Monday, February 26, 2024

Timing is Everything

By Stephen Vance, Editor

Meaford voters have elected a new council that features four new members, but it would seem that some things just aren’t going to change in the near future.


Throughout the campaign many voters expressed frustration about the number of lawsuits that the municipality is engaged in.


Well, we can add one more lawsuit to the mix.


The latest legal action involves a lawsuit filed against Meaford Mayor Francis Richardson by Geoff and Pauline Grist, and is a result of the messy situation involving the municipality having sued residents of Georgian Beach Road.


In short the Grists claim that Richardson had abused his position of power and that he failed to immediately declare a conflict of interest in the Georgian Beach debacle, and only in the last year has Richardson been removing himself from discussion of the case.


The Grists are seeking more than $2.5 million.


While it is sad that our municipality through our insurers will have to foot the bill for another legal battle, one has to wonder about the timing of this issue becoming public.


Rumours had swirled for weeks that a new lawsuit was in the offing but the first public indication that this lawsuit was going to happen came at the October 12 meeting of council. Two weeks before election day.


Upon arrival at that meeting a revised agenda was distributed which featured an addition to the original agenda. That addition was an “in camera” session to discuss the anonymous blog, and a legal issue involving Richardson and the Grists.


No information about the new legal case was made public, and anything discussed in camera could not be discussed with the media.


Naturally some are asking why there was no public statement made at the time.


Oh right- there was an election campaign taking place, so why muddy the waters with announcement of a new lawsuit that could negatively impact one of the candidate’s campaigns?


Apparently it was crucial to carry out a hunt for an anonymous blogger during the election campaign, and then based on what has been shown to be no actual evidence, issue a letter to one candidate demanding that he not only fire a member of his campaign team, but to do so publicly and notify all media outlets of what the expert lawyer claimed was “proof” of this residents’ involvement in that cowardly blog site.


But it would not be appropriate to issue a public statement to inform taxpaying residents that another candidate was facing a lawsuit that would be financed through municipal insurers.


Puzzling isn’t it?


There was a lot of talk during the campaign about transparency. Where is the transparency?


There have been those that have said that the issue surrounding the accusations made by the lawyer should not have been made public. In fact it has been said that McPherson and his campaign worker were wrong to have gone public. There was even a suggestion that McPherson should in some way be punished for allowing the details of the letter given to him to have been made public.


Those are interesting observations except that the letter from the lawyer DEMANDED that McPherson go public and he was given less than 24 hours to do so or, according to the lawyer, legal action would commence.


“The Municipality of Meaford requires that you [McPherson] publicly disavow any comments that Riley has made about municipal staff, that you make a public apology to to the staff of the Municipality of Meaford, and that you publicly terminate this individual from your campaign. Your comments in furtherance of disavowing your campaign from the libellous and scandalous commentary of Ms. Riley should be sent to the Meaford Express, the Meaford Independant [sic], Owen Sound Sun Times, Rogers Cable, CFOS and also posted on your website,” demanded the lawyer in the letter.


So Ms. Riley did just that, she went public and notified all of the media outlets identified in the letter, professed her innocence, and demanded that Google – the host of the blog site – help her clear her name and avoid a lawsuit threatened by the municipal lawyer.


But then the suggestion from council is that there was never any intent for her name to become public? It just didn’t become public in the way that the municipal lawyer had hoped.


If the release of information about the new lawsuit against Richardson could have waited until after the election, then so too could a threatening letter with unfounded accusations have waited until after.


If however it was important enough to pursue the blogger situation in the midst of an election campaign – a blog that incidentally had already been removed from the internet – then it should have also been important to issue a statement that a new lawsuit had been launched against the Mayor.


It is called fair play. It is called transparency.


Because it hasn’t been tested in court, we don’t know if there is any merit to this lawsuit against Richardson, just as staff and council didn’t know if there was any merit to the allegations being made against one of McPherson’s campaign workers.


But in an election for Mayor that was decided by just 291 votes, with nearly 200 of the 5,072 residents who cast ballots not even voting for Mayor, one has to wonder how different the result might have been.


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