Original Published on Jul 23, 2022 at 10:47
By Evan Saunders, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Lord Mayor Betty Disero’s husband, Dan Williams, is at the centre of a civil suit two neighbours have filed against the town.
Colin Telfer and Jennifer Elliott own a property on Dorchester Street and starting in 2016 they ran a bed and breakfast until the town refused to grant them a licence in July of 2020.
Telfer and Elliott were told a complaint was filed with the town alleging someone was living in the couple’s recently constructed garage. As a result, until an inspection took place, they could not renew their B&B licence.
The two went through what they say was a frustrating process of trying to find out who made the complaint.
They say the town initially refused to tell them who the complainant was, but eventually they discovered it was Williams, whose property borders Telfer’s and Elliott’s.
Williams said he signed the complaint when he filed it. The town does not usually reveal complainants’ names.
In a written statement, Elliott said she and Telfer are “the victims of harassment lies and the blatant abuse of our rights as citizens and property owners, by a person in authority.”
To them, the claim that they might be living in their garage seemed too outrageous to be true.
“We said, ‘That’s ridiculous.’ We wouldn’t be living in our garage. We’re two old farts, why would we move from our nice, air-conditioned home into our garage?” Elliott said in an interview.
Regardless, town bylaw officers attempted to conduct an inspection of the garage in order to verify or throw out the complaint.
Telfer and Elliott refused the inspection as a matter of principle and pride, Elliott said in an email to the town, referring to the search as humiliating.
Since an inspection of the property had already been completed in June and was evidently good, Telfer and Elliott tried to learn from the town who filed the complaint, fearing they were the victims of a malicious neighbour.
“It is the town’s standard practice not to disclose the identity of individuals who make complaints to the town. This practice is in place to protect a complainant’s privacy and to avoid retaliation amongst citizens,” former chief planner Craig Larmour said in a sworn affidavit in 2021.
Elliott and Telfer were concerned with the secrecy around Williams’ identity and the town’s refusal to identify the complainant amplified their concerns.
“Frankly, this scared the hell out of us, when someone with a lot more power than I ever had put a target on us. For those seven months, we didn’t know what was going on. We were worried they were going to target our main business,” said Telfer, a former police officer.
“That’s what really scared us. I’m not ashamed to admit it, I was scared every goddamn night.”
The affidavit states the only reason the town released Williams’ name is because he consented to it.
Telfer and Elliott said they got William’s identity due to police involvement, as they intended to file a mischief complaint against the complainant.
Another point of contention for the couple is that the town’s lawyer, Terrence Hill, told them there was no investigation after months of back and forth emailing.
“I thought they got their files mixed up because I’ve got 30 emails talking about this investigation,” Telfer said.
But Telfer said the town persisted in changing its narrative and suggesting there never had been a complaint but simply an extended inspection of the rental property.
Emails obtained by The Lake Report show a slightly more complex exchange.
Hill’s email to Elliott’s lawyer, dated March 11, 2021, says the issue around their rental did not rise from the complaint but rather from posts by Elliott on Facebook which said part of the garage would be used as an open-concept living space.
Screenshots attached to the town’s affidavit confirm Elliott wrote about the living space.
The statements on Facebook were the subject of the complaint filed by Williams.
Williams confirmed he filed a complaint about the setback of the new garage. He says he was not aware the issue was ongoing until Elliott made a Facebook post about it last week.
“I did see it and kind of laughed about it,” Williams said in an interview on July 19.
“I thought it was done, all said and done. I had no idea about it, that it was still continuing.”
Regarding the complaint, Williams said, “They’ve got a brand new dwelling five feet from my side-yard fence. I said it’s completely ruined our view. Basically that’s why I lodged the complaint.”
“It should have been a 20-foot setback if they were going to turn it into a dwelling.”
He said he has barely dealt with the issue or heard of it since.
“Believe it or not, I didn’t hear anything about it until some lawyer called me and I answered some questions. That’s all I ever heard about it.”
Williams verified that he based his complaint on Elliott’s Facebook post.
“What he sent in is a picture of Jennifer’s Facebook page, of a conversation she’s having with her cousin saying something about living space,” said Telfer.
Which brings the narrative back around to the garage. They have turned a portion of the garage into what Telfer called a “she-shed.” Essentially a hang out spot for Elliott.
“This complaint is just the most embarrassing thing I have ever seen,” said Telfer.
He and Elliott said one of the reasons they refused to allow an inspection of their garage is that Williams’ complaint was based on a false assumption.
Telfer said the garage was built with the proper permits and nothing was ever done that infringed any law or bylaw.
Therefore, having their business licence denied and receiving inconsistent responses from the town has left Telfer and Elliott feeling they were mistreated and are owed compensation.
They are suing the town for $100,000, with $50,000 relating to the loss of income and closure of their B&B, and another $50,000 for punitive and exemplary damages relating to the case.
They also want the town to launch a third-party investigation through an organization such as the provincial ombudsman to determine whether there was any wrongdoing by the municipality.
The suit has not been heard by a court and none of the allegations has been proven. In an online post this week about the case, Elliott said they have spent $41,000 in legal fees so far.
Central to the couple’s concerns is whether Disero knew of the situation and could be manipulating the situation due to her position of power in the town, motivated by her relationship with her husband.
Disero denies any such allegations.
“I will give you my own straightforward answers — I have acted with integrity. I have not sought to influence town employees for my personal advantage,” she told The Lake Report on July 19, reading from a prepared statement.
“I have not acted in a way that would give rise to a conflict of interest, bad faith or undue influence. I have certainly not acted in a way that is illegal or improper,” she said.
“I take the oath of office very seriously and act in a professional manner in service to my community. I have never used my office of lord mayor for my personal advantage.”
“For me to comment on the substance of their allegations would be to do what I am accused of and what I completely deny doing. I am duty-bound not to take advantage of information I have only because of my office of lord mayor to my personal advantage.”
Chief administrator Marnie Cluckie confirmed the suit has been filed.
“Town staff respond with integrity and with the best interests of the community in mind. Comments pertaining to dishonesty are without merit,” Cluckie said.
She said the town would not offer further comment as it is an active legal matter.
Town staff did not reply to inquiries as to whether the matter had been discussed with councillors in a closed session.
This item reprinted with permission from The Lake Report, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario