The Algoma Public Health fiasco, which saw the health agency employ a convicted criminal to oversee its financial operation and eventually resulted in four of its board members being asked to resign by the provincial minister of health, seems a long way back now.
Yet it may still be on the minds of some voters in Ward 4.
Because incumbent councillor Marchy Bruni, as the city’s representative on the APH board, was chairman at the time and it was mainly his involvement that led to the ignominious end for himself and the other three.
When the news broke on Jan. 15, 2015, that interim financial officer Shaun Rothberg was actually Shaun Rootenberg, a man with multiple convictions for fraud in his past, APH issued a news release in which it gave Rothberg some praise and said his services had been obtained through a consultant.
That was the beginning of the downward spiral for those in charge at APH.
Former board member Karen Marinich questioned the claim that his services were obtained through a consultant, saying Rothberg was hired solely on the recommendation of Medical Officer of Health Kim Barker.
Minutes of a in-committee meeting from November 2013 backed up her claim, showing that Barker told the board that hiring through a consulting firm was going to be expensive and that the board consider hiring a candidate for the interim position who had developed a relationship with the Group Health Centre.
She didn’t mention, of course, the candidate’s name, which was Shaun Rothberg, or that she was involved in a personal relationship with him. His pay was to be $4,000 a week plus expenses.
Within a week of Rothberg’s background becoming public, on Jan. 21, 2015, Barker had lost her job.
A severance package was negotiated with her by Bruni, as board chair, and Bob Paciocco, APH’s legal counsel. The two presented details of the negotiated agreement to the board in closed session, presenting the deal as the best the board was going to get
Barker got six months severance pay (about $150,000 based on her $300,000 yearly salary), a letter of reference and immunity.
I wrote shortly after discovering the details of the severance package that under ordinary circumstances it would be logical for the chair of the health agency’s board and its legal counsel to negotiate Barker’s severance package.
But I also pointed out that these weren’t ordinary circumstances.
The three parties involved had ties that extended well beyond Algoma Public Health, into the business of growing marijuana for public consumption.
“Aside from their roles at APH, a corporation profile report dated Jan. 28, 2014, shows all three as members of the board of Algoma Medicinal Alliance (AMA), a marijuana grow operation for which developer Amit Sofer was hoping to obtain a federal licence to establish in the Sault.” I wrote after receiving a copy of the report…
“Barker, in fact, had been listed as president, secretary and treasurer as Sofer was seemingly attempting to present AMA as a community project with Joe Fratesi, the city’s chief administrative officer, also on the four-person board.”
The APH board had been under fire in the community but in defence of some members it should be noted that they were not informed about APH becoming involved with AMA until it was a fait accompli, that they were not informed that Barker was a member of AMA, that APH was going to make an approach to the city through then chief administrative officer Joe Fratesi that if AMA came to fruition that Fratesi be appointed to its board.
They had no say and no vote on any of this.
They did get to vote on the appointment of Bruni to the AMA board when they were approached by Sofer and Fratesi on his behalf on Feb. 17, 2014, and they voted their approval, with Marinich as the only dissenting vote..
However, it turned out this was just another case of the APH board not being informed.
As the corporate profile report dated Jan. 28 showed, Bruni was already listed as a member of the AMA board before he approached his own board for approval.
With so much untoward happening, Eric Hoskins, minister of health and long-term care, ordered a forensic audit of APH and an assessment of the board’s performance.
Graham Scott was appointed to assess the performance of the board and as a result of his report Bruni and members Janet Blake, who was vice-chair, Debbie Kirby and mayor Ron Rody of Wawa were asked to resign. Members who had just recently been elected were allowed to remain in their positions to form the nucleus of a new board.
The report of the forensic audit conductd by Allen Tait has never been released.
City council put questions to the APH board about the going-ons there but weren’t happy with the report.
When some councillors began putting questions directly to Bruni, who was sitting at the table with them, he asked them why they were asking him and suggested they should be asking APH,
That, of course, only meant he would get the questions but in written form while sitting in another chair.
It was only another part of what had become theatre of the absurd.
Fellow Coun. Steve Butland came to Bruni’s defence, suggesting there were other sides to the story that were yet to be told.
However, he kept them to himself at the time and they have never surfaced since.
I wrote 16 columns in regard to the roof coming off at Algoma Public Health. I just reread them all as I thought about doing this piece.
I think if there is one lesson for council it is this: Make it a policy that councillors appointed to boards are not to become the chairs of such boards. It should be made clear that they are there to represent the city’s interests on them, not to run them.
If there is a lesson for all members of the APH board, it is not to stray from their mandate.
It was hard to believe that a health agency that preaches against smoking would become involved in a business that actually promotes it. Marinich, it appears, was the only one to speak to that.
But I guess the question now is, with the passage of time and memory lapses does anyone really care any more?
Maybe the election will tell us.
Mayoral candidate Rory Ring suggests I don’t see him as a legitimate candidate.
He is wrong.
I consider anyone who files nomination papers a legitimate candidate.
I just don’t consider him a worthy candidate.
Doug Millroy can be reached at [email protected]