Oro-Medonte councillor earns second reprimand in 6 months

Oro-Medonte Coun. Richard Schell has run afoul with the township’s integrity commissioner again.

For the second time in six months, integrity commissioner John Ewart is recommending Schell be reprimanded and have his pay suspended.

Ewart is also recommending Schell review the township’s code of conduct again and stop referring to a legal factum as a court decision.

In his April 19 report, which will be presented Wednesday afternoon during the township’s council meeting, Ewart said he received a request for inquiry into an alleged contravention of the municipal code of conduct that happened during a town hall meeting in Hawkestone on Nov. 26, 2023.

Less than two weeks before that town hall meeting, on Nov. 14, Schell was reprimanded and had his pay suspended for 60 days as he was found to have “breached the municipal code of conduct by distributing a court document to five members of council on Aug. 29, 2023 in an attempt to influence council or members of council regarding the subject matter of short-term rentals.“

At the Nov. 26 town hall meeting, Schell presented a factum of the Oro-Medonte Association for Responsible STRs as a court decision and said it showed short-term rentals were legal in the township.

That landed the councillor in hot water.

Schell did not respond to a request for comment from BarrieToday.

In his report, Ewart recommended:

Despite the recommended discipline, the integrity commissioner refused to say Schell acted with "intent to mislead."

“I am not prepared to find that the member intentionally provided misinformation to members of the public,” Ewart wrote in the report that will go to council Wednesday. “Rather, I accept that the member as of Nov. 26, 2023 continued to be mistaken as to his understanding that the factum was in fact a decision of the Superior Court of Justice notwithstanding the earlier report of Nov. 14, 2023."

Ewart said it was only during an exchange with a member of the public did Schell admit to a mistaken belief.

“However, as noted the member admitted to a continuation of a belief in the contents of the factum,” the integrity commissioner added.

Ewart said what Schell personally believes, related to the factum's contents, is not relevant to this inquiry, but rather Schell’s public statements regarding the factum as representative of a court decision.

Ewart concluded Schell failed to understand what the factum actually represented as late as the town hall meeting on Nov. 26, 2023.

“I do not find that he could have possessed the intent to misrepresent the document as he was mistaken in his understanding,” Ewart wrote.

Ewart found Schell did breach the municipal code of conduct by improperly referring to the factum at the town hall meeting on Nov. 26 as a decision of the Divisional Court which served to render short-term rentals legal within the township.

Ewart said the allegation that Schell referred to a document as being a court decision and therefore of some legal force and effect was the crux of the issue in the integrity commissioner’s earlier reprimand of Schell, delivered on Nov. 14, 2023.

Ewart said Schell’s failure to understand the factum and his continued reference to it as a court decision demonstrated a failure to act in accordance with the requirements of the municipal code of conduct

“Such conduct is worthy of reprimand and sanction particularly since the reference on Nov. 26, 2023 was to the same document that had been the subject of an earlier inquiry conducted by my office which concluded with the recommendation that the member be sanctioned,” Ewart wrote.

In putting forward his recommendation for sanction, Ewart said he was "cognizant" that the councillor ultimately admitted he was mistaken in his understanding of the factum on Nov. 26, 2023, according to the report.

“Council may wish to take this fact into consideration in its decision on whether to impose a penalty as such decision belongs to municipal council and not to the integrity commissioner," Ewart wrote. "However, without the imposition of some form of sanctions which are to be proportionate, the purpose and effectiveness of the code of conduct will be (undermined)."

Wayne Doyle, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BarrieToday.com