Original Published on Aug 20, 2022 at 17:24
By Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Niagara-on-the-Lake’s integrity commissioner has found no evidence Lord Mayor Betty Disero behaved unethically in the handling of a bylaw complaint launched by her husband.
The complaint regarding the property of Colin Telfer and Jennifer Elliott was filed by Dan Williams in June 2020 over the neighbours’ suspected use of their garage as a living space.
The integrity report was completed this past March but was only made public this week, at the mayor’s request.
Dated March 15, 2022, it was never previously released because that wasn’t a requirement under NOTL’s investigative protocol.
The report is now public, included on the agenda for a special council meeting on Aug. 18.
Telfer formally complained to integrity commissioner Edward McDermott on Oct. 7, 2021, accusing the mayor of using her power to influence the handling of her husband’s complaint.
Disero said she didn’t know her husband had filed the complaint until June 2021.
Telfer is not happy with the integrity commissioner’s report.
“We were flabbergasted. It was such a misleading report,” he said in an interview.
“There was no investigation done. They just solicited self-serving statements from folks,” he said.
In an earlier written statement, Elliott claimed 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.”
As previously reported by The Lake Report, Williams submitted his complaint after Jennifer Elliott posted to Facebook that much of the space in their garage would be converted into “living space.”
The garage is about five feet from their shared property line and consists of three large bays.
Williams said the garage obstructs the view from his and Disero’s home.
According to the report, Disero was asked on June 23, 2021, by town chief administrator Marnie Cluckie and town solicitor Terry Hill whether she had submitted a bylaw complaint about her neighbours’ property.
She said she had not.
According to the commissioner’s report, bylaw officer Henry Boese attempted to investigate the complaint against Telfer and Elliott but they did not allow him to search their garage.
No warrant for the search was ever filed, but the bylaw investigation remained open.
The town withheld the renewal of Telfer and Elliot’s B&B licence on the grounds that they had an open bylaw investigation on their property.
Telfer said he believes this was the intended result from the start, but the integrity report found no evidence to support his speculation.
“I didn’t find out about it until Terry Hill and Marnie Cluckie told me about it,” Disero said in an interview when asked about her husband’s complaint.
According to the report, it is common practice for the town to withhold licences when bylaw compliance is in question, regardless of who filed the bylaw complaint.
The integrity commissioner’s investigator, Michael Maynard, interviewed several members of the town staff, including Cluckie, Hill and Boese.
None of them could corroborate Telfer’s suspicion that the mayor had attempted to use her position to influence the bylaw complaint against Telfer and Elliott’s property at 468 Dorchester St.
It has been two years since Telfer was able to operate his B&B business.
“If you shut a business down for two years, you’re starting over from scratch again,” Telfer said.
“We had a nice little business going there. $10 to $20 grand a year, had great folks there, met a lot of nice people,” he added.
The commissioner’s report says Telfer and Elliott never appealed the decision to withhold their B&B licence.
Telfer said there was nothing to appeal as the town had not declined their licence but had instead withheld it pending the results of an investigation into the open bylaw complaint originally filed by Williams.
According to the report, that investigation was initiated by Boese, who asked permission to inspect the property for bylaw compliance.
“It was such a ludicrous complaint,” said Telfer, who refused to consent to the property search.
The use of the garage did not violate any bylaws.
“As a Canadian citizen, I’ve got that right,” he added.
Elliott had plans to use the additional garage space as a “she-shed,” but her Facebook post on the topic alarmed the town because of its ambiguous use of the term “living space.”
To date, the property has not been inspected to determine whether it complies with the town’s bylaws.
This item reprinted with permission from The Lake Report, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario