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Manny Baron appointed CAO/clerk for Mapleton

New CAO - Mayor Neil Driscoll, left, and members of Mapleton council officially approved the hiring of former Petrolia CAO/clerk Manny Baron as CAO/clerk of Mapleton Township at a special meeting on Jan. 3.  Photo by Patrick Raftis

Manny Baron appointed CAO/clerk for Mapleton

by Patrick Raftis

MAPLETON - Mayor Neil Driscoll said Mapleton council is confident in its choice of a new CAO/clerk, despite a controversial exit from his previous position.

The township announced the hiring of Manny Baron as its new chief administrative officer at a special meeting on Jan. 3.

Baron, who was CAO/clerk for the Town of Petrolia for the past five-plus years, resigned on Nov. 14 in the wake of conflict of interest allegations involving the leasing of property he owned to the municipality.

Driscoll said Baron is the right person for the job despite the controversy.

“Council is confident that Manny brings the right mix of experience and skill to lead our senior management group to success and to translate council’s vision for the township into solid corporate and fiscal programming,” stated Driscoll in a Jan. 3 press release announcing Baron’s appointment.

In a later telephone interview, Driscoll told the Advertiser council investigated the allegations against Baron prior to the hiring.

“Once we heard Manny’s side of the story, and actually we spoke with his mayor (Petrolia Mayor John McCharles) and we got that side of the story, we believed what Manny told us in the interview and we’re quite confident he’ll do a great job in Mapleton,” said Driscoll.

According to published reports, Baron was placed on paid administrative leave in October after a local newspaper, The Independent, reported he had been charging the town rent, and utilities in lieu of rent, on facilities he owns through a numbered company.

The town then appointed an investigator, John Fleming, to look into the deal for the properties, which were used by the town for a youth/seniors centre and a storage area.

Baron resigned on Nov. 14, after Fleming’s report was presented to Petrolia town council.

Though council declined to make the report public, citing personnel issues, McCharles provided a summary in a Nov. 30 interview with the Postmedia Network.

“It dealt (with) the two buildings that Mr. Baron owned and that basically was it … There were no other accusations in the report other than Mr. Baron made an error in judgment and owned the two buildings,” McCharles told Postmedia.

The Independent filed a request for the report under the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, but it was turned down by the Town of Petrolia. The newspaper then filed an appeal of the decision.

Driscoll said Mapleton officials have not seen Fleming’s report, but a consultant assisting the township with the hiring process made inquiries on Mapleton’s behalf.

“The consultant made lots of contacts within his old community and his references for sure,” said Driscoll.

He suggested media reports on the issue may have been misleading.

“Not to be rude, but you know sometimes stories get twisted in the paper a little bit too, right? So that’s why we researched this like we did,” the mayor said.

Asked to expand on Baron’s explanation for the conflict allegations, Driscoll said,  “I don’t think it all happened as the report had (it) in the paper.”

Prior to joining the staff in Petrolia, Baron, a native of Timmins, worked as general manager of Brooke Telecom Cooperative for seven years. He was also briefly a member of Petrolia town council, having been appointed in 2008 to fill a vacancy created by a mid-term resignation.

He didn’t run in the 2010 municipal election.

“I know both sides of the fence,” Baron observed in a Jan. 4 interview with the Advertiser.

In the interview, Baron conceded his ownership of the Petrolia properties constituted a conflict, but he said his intent was to contribute to the community, not profit from the transaction.

“There’s no doubt at the time I was in direct conflict of interest in the sense that council was unaware that I owned the building - ah, buildings,” said Baron.

“However, I can assure you that the town was not out money. They didn’t pay me rent on a monthly basis. They paid their portion of the utilities. They did pay first and last, but did their own leasehold improvements.

“Apart from that, I personally went and got donations to cover the expense of the youth centre and the seniors centre so the town wasn’t out any money, which in hindsight I wish I had told council at the time, but here we are now.”

Baron added, “I regret not telling council at the time, but if I had it do over again we’d donate the spot and we still do. The seniors and youth centre still occupy the spot in our house and still pay their portion of utilities and pay no rent.”

Asked why he didn’t disclose ownership of the buildings, Baron said he wanted to make a contribution anonymously.

“My wife and I felt that being a small community in the position that we’re in we wanted to give back, but give back in silence ... and allow the seniors and the youth to enjoy the space as they see fit without knowing who’s donating it to them.”

Baron told the Advertiser he sees Mapleton’s long-standing water and wastewater capacity issues as a priority and noted, “I’m very fond of economic development.”

He also said he plans to promptly “meet with all staff and figure out where we’re at and what priorities they have.”

At the Jan. 3 meeting, Mapleton council repealed bylaws appointing Murray Clarke as acting CAO, and Ben Cornell as deputy clerk “for CAO recruitment purposes.”

Cornell is an employee of Ward and Uptigrove, the accounting and consulting firm engaged to assist the township with replacing the township’s former CAO.

Brad McRoberts resigned, effective Nov. 20, to take a CAO position with South Bruce Peninsula.

Councillor Michael Martin expressed thanks to Clarke for his efforts.

“As much as I’m excited about having Manny come aboard, I really enjoyed our acting CAO and getting to know you in your time with us. So thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure honestly,” said Martin.

Driscoll added, “We’d like to welcome Manny Baron to our staff here as our CAO … Thank you Murray for all your time. Thank you council for committing the time to go through the hiring process just before Christmas  … It was a good process and I know we’ve come up with the perfect candidate for Mapleton once again.”

At the meeting Baron said, “I’m extremely excited to join the Township of Mapleton team. I’m very much looking forward to our time together and looking forward to meeting everybody … I appreciate the welcome.”

January 12, 2018


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