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Toronto Sun - Oct. 2, 2009 - By Rob Lamberti, Sun Media, ROB.LAMBERTI@SUNMEDIA.CA
Hazel cleared - or not?
Some say an independent review into allegations of conflict of interest involving Mississauga Mayor Hazel McCallion cleared her.
Others aren't so sure.
On the one hand, the report said a video of a May 21, 2008 meeting showed she didn't declare a conflict of interest even though minutes of the session state she did. In two previous meetings she did state she had a conflict.
That was enough for council to vote 6-4 for a judicial review by a superior court judge.
For her supporters, it's like a witch hunt -- for others, it's optics.
"First of all, I hired a lawyer a couple of weeks ago and ... reported to me that I complied with the act," McCallion said. "The city council hired an independent lawyer ... and I complied with the act. So, I don't know."
She laughed when asked if this was personal.
"No comment," McCallion said.
Ward 9 Councillor Pat Saito believes it's a salvo fired in a bid to unseat the 88-year-old mayor.
Patricia Mullin, Ward 2 councillor, agrees, saying there's a plot afoot.
"We had a legal opinion ... that spelled out there was no wrongdoing," Mullin said.
"Why would I vote for something just to go on a witch hunt? I believe there's a lot more to this. I'm not going to be a part of that," she said.
And the proposed inquiry will be unnecessarily expensive, Mullin said.
Toronto law firm McLean and Kerr was picked by the city to review documents dealing with the conditional purchase of a parcel of land in the city's downtown for about $15 million. The land was to be developed into a hotel and convention centre.
The deal was being brokered by McCallion's realtor son, Peter, through a company called World Class Developments. The 3.4-hectare site in City Centre, which was later discovered to be contaminated with radioactive beryllium, was owned in part by OMERS, the giant municipal employees' pension fund. OMERS also owns some shares in Mississauga's hydro company.
That deal eventually fell through.
Then the city became interested in the land for the construction of a Sheridan College campus, and when the contamination was discovered, the landowner removed about 5,000 cubic metres of soil to clean the property.
Council also believed the land was overvalued and had it reassessed.
The city agreed to buy the land next to Square One shopping mall Wednesday.
It's a complicated case and the law firm was to make it uncomplicated.
Dealing specifically with the May 21, 2008 meeting, the law firm said McCallion should have disclosed her financial interest in World Class Developments' involvement in the property.
But the legal opinion said the mayor's actions were the result of an "honest error in judgment or committed through inadvertence" and that she wouldn't be subject to penalties outlined in the municipal conflict of interest act.
And that motivated Ward 7 Councillor Nando Iannicca to say it seems the mayor was somehow in conflict, but it wasn't clear how serious it was.
So he put forward a motion -- seconded by Ward 6 Councillor Carolyn Parrish -- calling for a judicial review of the matter, meaning a high court judge will decide if a conflict of interest occurred.
For Iannicca, it's a necessary step.
"The only way to bring it back is independent of council, with someone else of competent jurisdiction, review it, and it takes us wherever it takes us," Iannicca said in an interview. "I hope everybody is going to be exonerated, but it doesn't look like one group of politicians are washing another one's hands."
Parrish was in meetings yesterday but sent a written statement.
"The recent land transaction with OMERS, on behalf of Sheridan College, created considerable turmoil and raised questions of conflict of interest, amongst others," she wrote.
"Council unanimously asked the outside law firm of McLean and Kerr to review a series of documents and answer a variety of questions regarding soil contaminants on the subject lands as well as superior court of Ontario affidavits challenging the land we were about to purchase was free of encumbrances," Parrish wrote.
"The lawyers' report, including statements by Peter McCallion and the mayor, clearly show bad judgment was exercised, at the very least.
"It was my reluctant duty to pass the whole file on to a qualified, independent judge appointed by the province," her statement read.
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