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BIA byelection results remain in limbo amid more debate, uncertainty

A final decision on the byelection results won’t come until at least March 3
2019-10-29 Downtown Barrie RB 2
Raymond Bowe/BarrieToday

The saga around the Downtown Barrie Business Improvement Association (BIA) byelection will continue until at least March 3 as the six members-elect seek legal counsel about the disputed results.

Despite meeting for more than four hours Friday, the BIA appears to be no closer to resolving its recent byelection process than they were when they started several weeks ago. The byelection was needed after six members resigned in October 2019.

At one point during Friday afternoon's BIA board meeting at city hall, it was initially decided to void the Jan. 24 byelection results, which would've seen Daniela Fuda, Rob Hamilton, Colin Hassey, Paul Lynch, Cait Patrick and Jason Ing join the BIA board. Lynch and Ing were among those who had resigned from the board back in the fall.

Before Friday's meeting concluded, that motion was voted down and the six members-elect will now be given the chance to seek their own independent legal advice on the byelection results. 

The board held an emergency meeting Friday starting at 9 a.m., going in-camera for close to two hours, citing the need to go behind closed doors was due to client-solicitor privilege. The BIA had retained legal advice from Barriston Law on how to handle a leaked document from the firm to the board titled ‘confidential memorandum’ which dealt with a complaint about the board's byelection process. The complaint alleged voting irregularities.

The memo says: "A complaint has been received from a Downtown BIA member questioning the results of the election based on concerns raised regarding the casting of approximately 180 proxy votes by individuals who had been seeking election to the
board. The proxy votes cast were, with few exceptions, accepted as valid proxies at the time of the election."

The proxies cast by the individuals in question were done so on behalf of corporate members as well as individual members entitled to vote in their personal capacity, the memo adds. 

Friday's meeting, chaired by city representative Coun. Sergio Morales, reconvened in the afternoon and also began behind closed doors, but eventually was opened to the public and led to some heated debate.

In a statement from BIA board member Teresa Woolard, the board proposed, on advice from its lawyer, tossing the byelection results and holding another one in the near future.

“It has become evident that the election process set out by the constitution of the Downtown Barrie BIA was not strictly followed and the acceptance of multiple proxy votes from candidates should not have been permitted,” Woolard said. “In view of this, the current board has concluded that the recent election results are not to be ratified and that a new election with clear procedural requirements, as well as the limitations applicable to proxy voting, will be held.”

That motion sparked a long debate between current board members in attendance — including Woolard, Morales, Chad Ballantyne, Randy Aylwin and Michelle Huggins (via video) — and members-elect who were present, including Fuda, Hamilton, Hassey, Lynch and Patrick. Ing was absent.  

Lynch questioned the legality of the decision to scrap the results. He told the board he followed the byelection rules that were given to him.

“I fully cleared everything I was doing with staff and was given emails saying that was exactly it, that’s OK. Then I went on and spent a lot of time running the election campaign,” Lynch said. “I did everything according to the rules.”

At a Nov. 6 BIA board meeting, the nomination packages were reviewed and the motion was approved unanimously to have them sent to candidates.

Morales countered Lynch’s concerns by agreeing that the Viaplex real estate company owner adhered to the rules, but that the board's rules may not have been clear.

“You followed the rules with what you were told," Morales said. “I think the fundamental issue is that the rules were not clear as to how they were implemented based on the statutes, that being our constitution and Municipal Act. But it starts with our constitution, (the rules) were not interpreted correctly. There was nothing that you did wrong.”

Earlier this week, city council was expected to approve the six new members after giving the byelection results initial approval last week at general committee. However, the results were sent back to the BIA for further consideration.

At that point, the lawyers got involved. 

Morales told BarrieToday that the reason for not ratifying the results came from a single complaint.

“The complaint that was made, which anybody can make on any process, triggered the complaint and we brought in legal counsel,” Morales said.

BarrieToday has obtained a copy of the email complaint from candidate Robyn Latchman, which was sent to the Downtown BIA at 5:46 p.m., on Friday, Jan. 24, a little over an hour after byelection voting had closed.

In it, Latchman disputes candidates not being allowed to be present during vote counting, as well as the use of multiple proxies. She also inquired about what governing body was being used for the byelection process. 

In response, the byelection committee referred Latchman to the Municipal Act.

Further, the BIA noted only byelection committee members were present for the voting tally, which was comprised of Tourism Barrie executive director Kathleen Trainor, who was chosen as the chief election officer, as well as Barrie police Staff Sgt. Kevin McLean, and BIA staff members Stacey Zubczyk and Kristen Eatch.

Latchman chose not to comment when reached by BarrieToday on Saturday. 

On Friday, the BIA board decided to release the legal memo, along with the Jan. 24 byelection results, and give the six members-elect and the public a chance to review the information. It's expected those details could be posted to the BIA website on Tuesday, Feb. 18. A final decision on the results won’t come until at least March 3.

At Friday's meeting, longtime BIA member and former mayor Rob Hamilton told Morales and the BIA board that they would have to face possible scrutiny of Barrie residents over their decision.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Hamilton said. “You have to be concerned with the way you’re going to appear when all of this is made public, if the public even cares.”

Woolard addressed the issue about how the current board may be viewed.

“I take offense to being told that it's our fault in a way, or implying it's our fault,” Woolard said. “We all want the same thing as well. I still do and that's why I came on here. I want the same things you do, Rob. Right from the beginning, we were hit with so many things from the city to deal with immediately.

"It was not our fault that six people left," she added. "We still had to grapple and deal with everything on our plate. To be told that our credibility is shit no matter what we do? I think we’re damned if we do, damned if we don’t.”

Hassey told BarrieToday he was frustrated that, despite following the rules of the byelection and having the board admit he did nothing wrong, that he's still waiting to see if his election to the board will be ratified.

“I took extraordinary measures to seek the advice of BIA representatives on election procedures well in advance of the election, particularly with respect to how proxy voting is handled,” said Hassey. “The advice given was followed and verified multiple times during the election process.

"The BIA board has now taken the position that the rules and procedures set forth by the BIA were followed in this election," he added. "It is concerning to learn that, although the BIA’s own procedures and rules were followed, the election results have been called into question to the point where ratification of candidates has been delayed.”