No sanctions despite Napanee mayor’s failure to disclose conflict of interest: integrity report

Click to play video: 'Mayor of Napanee in hot water'
Mayor of Napanee in hot water
Mayor of Napanee in hot water – Sep 13, 2021

Editor’s note: This story has been changed to reflect that Andrew Isbester did not have previous business dealings with the developer who purchased Heritage Park.  

An integrity commissioner report found that Marg Isbester, mayor of Greater Napanee, failed to disclose a conflict interest involving property discussions at council that could potentially benefit her son.

Still, the commissioner’s investigation, launched by a complaint, did not find that Isbester was trying to influence council and town staff to take actions that would benefit her or her son, and did not recommend any sanctions against the first-term mayor.

The conflict involves Andrew Isbester, who owns two properties adjacent to a lot called “Heritage Park,” which was sold by the town to a developer in 2019. The property was listed for over $1 million.

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“The evidence demonstrates that the mayor’s son has had previous business dealings, involving the sale and development of land, with a local developer who demonstrated an interest in acquiring Heritage Park,” the report said.

This not the developer that eventually ended up buying the lot for a future development called Millhouse Yards.

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The commissioner, Laura Deane, found no wrongdoing before the sale of the property, but following the purchase, the commissioner found that the mayor failed on several occasions to declare a potential conflict of interest on the matter when a development application was filed.

This included discussions relating to a storm water management pond on the property.

“It is clear from the above that the mayor’s son’s four-acre property to the north of Heritage Park would benefit from council’s approval of the development applications by receiving enhanced drainage,” the report said.

The commissioner said by July 2020, the mayor would have been aware that her son “stood to benefit” from the developer’s proposal.

She did finally announce a pecuniary interest in the matter in February 2021.

Despite this, the commissioner noted that an investigation launched in late 2020 that questioned the town and former mayor’s integrity involving several land sales should have made Isbester cautious of her potential conflicts. KPMG eventually cleared both the former mayor and the town of any wrongdoing in a deep-dive report published this summer.

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Property sale to former Napanee, Ont., mayor draws backlash

“Given the highly publicized public concern over the town’s dealings with land and the fact that the town had recently directed an independent review of its property sales process, one would have expected the mayor to have demonstrated a higher level of attentiveness to perceived conflicts of interest,” the report noted.

Despite these findings, the integrity commissioner did not recommend sending the matter to court, or any other sanctions, for that matter.

The report listed several reasons why the commissioner came to this conclusion, including: the mayor’s long service in council with no other breaches against her, no perceived motivation on her part to benefit from the lack of disclosure, and her eventual declaration of a pecuniary interest.

“Although, in our opinion, the breach is not insignificant, we submit that deterrence can be achieved without the need for a court application. Furthermore, in our view, it is most likely that a court would not order that the mayor be removed from her seat in these circumstances,” the report noted.

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Isbester said she would refrain from commenting on the matter until after council had an opportunity to discuss the report with the integrity commissioner at Tuesday’s council meeting.

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