After what must have been an exhausting five-hour committee of the whole meeting with extensive discussion on several important issues before councillors Monday, Coun. Martin Mazza managed to silence the council chamber with an accusation that stunned those still in attendance.
Earlier in the evening, at one of the public meetings being held during the planning committee, a discussion took place about a property at 427 Butler Street. The property owner has applied for a zoning amendment to permit a severance for a residential lot. Coun. Betty Disero, who lives a couple of houses away from the property under discussion, declared a conflict of interest – although there was no vote on the amendment Monday, there will be when the staff report comes back to council for a decision.
But when the public meetings concluded and Fire Chief Rob Grimwood and the Town's environmental supervisor were talking to councillors about Sunday's fire across from the Lavender Festival on Niagara Stone Road, Mazza said he overheard Disero talking to Coun. John Wiens, who was sitting beside her, about the trees on the Butler Street property.
“A conflict of interest is a conflict of interest,” he said.
By speaking about the issue to another councillor Disero was breaching councillors' code of conduct and violating the Municipal Act, he said.
After Disero had declared a conflict, she had no right “to try to influence another councillor sitting at this table, when I can clearly hear her talking about trees on Butler Street,” Mazza said.
He was visibly shaken, apologized for being nervous, and told fellow councillors it was very difficult for him to say what he felt he had to say, and that he was torn about whether to say it or not.
He stressed it was not a personal attack, and said that when he reached over to tell Disero before speaking publicly, “she said I shouldn't be eavesdropping.”
But the conversation beside him was so loud he had trouble hearing the other speakers, he said.
“I'm sorry. Rules were broken and I'm disgusted,” he said.
Coun. Jamie King was chairing the meeting, and although he's always an eloquent and articulate speaker, he was stumbling for a suitable reply. He hadn't heard Disero's conversation with Wiens, he said. He didn't want to venture a comment, and as chair couldn't find anything “actionable” in what he had heard. He didn't want to put Disero on the spot by asking her for a response, but suggested he could look for counsel on how to proceed.
When Mazza said he'd appreciate some advice about what could be done, Town clerk Peter Todd stepped in and said they could speak privately after the meeting, when he could outline the procedure for formally requesting an investigation by an integrity commissioner.
“I apologize to everybody for ths,” he said again. “but I couldn't sit with this on my stomach tonight.”
Mazza said he expected to meet with Todd Wednesday to find out how to proceed.
Disero didn't respond at the meeting and said Tuesday she was unable to comment.