'The taxpayers lost': North Bay man frustrated city won't come clean on former CAO controversy
NORTH BAY -- A North Bay man who raised the alarm when a former CAO turned up on the Sunshine List for two years after he retired says the city is still not being transparent with taxpayers.
Kevin Ferris filed a freedom of information request (FOI) to find out why Jerry Knox was paid $203,000 in both 2016 and 2017 as a "corporate advisor," even though it's not known whether he did any actual work.
The city released heavily redacted documents of the in-camera meeting where the matter was discussed. Ferris said the documents is so full of blacked out portions, it doesn't shed any light on the mystery.
He began looking in the matter in 2017 when he found Knox was on the province’s Sunshine List for 2016 and 2017. After a three-year battle for information, Ferris is asking for accountability and transparency from North Bay city council.
Disappointed in council
"I'm disappointed that none of the councillors have stepped up and shown the courage to fight for the taxpayers of North Bay," said Ferris. “So, it’s $406,000 that the taxpayers funded."
The employment contract said Knox started the corporate advisor role in June 2016. The job description states that: "From time to time, Knox may provide consulting and advisory services to the CAO or the city's then acting CAO."
The documents also show Mayor Al McDonald and Knox held several discussions concerning a transition plan in the fall of 2015. Despite this, McDonald has gone on the record saying he was not involved in the "hiring or firing" of a corporate advisor position.
Ferris said something doesn't add up.
"The mayor's statements regarding this don't match the documents and they don't match the employment contact I had released," he said.
CTV News reached out to the mayor for a response. No interview opportunity was granted. But the city did release this statement:
“The City of North Bay complied with the office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPC) in these matters,” said city spokesperson Gord Young. “All IPC decisions, whether on these matters or others, are available to the public on its website.”
Ferris also filed an appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner for paperwork regarding an in-camera meeting which took place on Dec. 8, 2015, when the then city council voted on the Knox transition plan.
No evidence of a vote
Even though there is documentation of that meeting with all of councillors present, there is no evidence a vote took place.
Ferris said he is frustrated because so much information in the documents he received is blacked out.
"I can't see the motion, I can't see a vote in there,” he said. “The city's position is that the council gave direction to staff to get into this agreement with Mr. Knox. I want to see who, in fact, supported this."
Knox announced his resignation as CAO at a press conference on Dec. 9, 2015. There was no mention at the time that Knox would continue on as a corporate advisor. He then retired effective June 3, 2016, and began the corporate advisor role the next day, according to the documents.
The struggle to get information has Ferris calling for changes to the Ontario's Municipal Act to ensure elected officials are more transparent.
"The system isn't set up well for the taxpayers to get any kind of results,” said Ferris. “It's all set up to protect the politicians and not help the taxpayer. The taxpayers lost."