Dr. Kimberly Barker lost her job as medical officer of health here back in 2015 because of her hiring of a convicted criminal, with whom she was romantically involved, to run Algoma Public Health’s finances on an interim basis.
But I have always thought she committed another sin also quite egregious, her collaboration with board chair Marchy Bruni to get the health unit involved in a marijuana grow operation proposed for the city.
The move by the health agency to get involved with the marijuana grow-op initially raised some eyebrows within the city.
But the controversy deepened when it became known that Barker, Bruni, Joe Fratesi, then the city’s chief administrative officer, and Bob Paciocco, the health agency’s legal counsel, were listed as members of the board of Algoma Medicinal Alliance (AMA), the marijuana grow-op that developer Amit Sofer was hoping to obtain a federal licence to establish in the Sault.
A corporate profile report that I obtained listed Barker as president, secretary and treasurer.
With these four on the board, with both the city and APH thus being represented, Sofer was seemingly attempting to present AMA as a community project.
There were a couple of odd ripples concerning the appointment of Bruni and Fratesi to the AMA board.
Sofer, accompanied by Fratesi, approached the board of Algoma Public Health in closed session on Feb. 19, 2014, seeking permission to have Bruni sit on the APH board.
But the corporate profile report previously alluded to was dated Jan. 28, 2014, which meant Bruni was already a member of the board when Sofer sought and received permission for him to be on it.
It was pretty well the same situation with Fratesi.
When council in closed session gave him permission to sit on the AMA board, the permission was predicated on the basis that it would not happen until after a proposed partnership among AMA, APH and Health Canada came to fruition. But, as the corporate profile report showed, he was already on the board.
Council, as far as I know, never offered anything in the way of rebuke for having been duped.
I said in a column on April 4, 2015, that I was surprised that no one at the closed meeting asked how such a partnership could possibly take place since AMA had to apply to Health Canada for a licence.
“Did no one twig that for Health Canada to become involved in such a venture, in effect giving a licence to itself, would be a huge conflict of interest?” I asked.
“The partnership was never going to happen. It is not what Health Canada is all about.
“It is not what APH is all about either, as only then board member Karen Marinich seemed to grasp. When the board after-the-fact approved Bruni’s appointment to the AMA board, hers was the only negative vote as she made clear this was not within the agency’s mandate.”
Neither Barker, who should have known better, nor Bruni ever explained the rationale for attempting to take a health unit into a partnership with a marijuana grow operation.
Think about it. A health unit that works to get people to quit smoking getting involved with an operation where some of its products will be inhaled directly into the lungs.
Wouldn’t you think a medical officer of health would turn thumbs down on such a suggestion?
Wouldn’t you think the board of a health unit would do the same?
And wouldn’t you think city council would have pulled Bruni as its representative on the APH board after it all hit the fan?
Heck, council didn’t even put his feet to the fire for an explanation of all that went on, the revelation of Barker’s hiring of Shaun Rothberg, the alias of the convicted criminal she hired to handle APH’s finances on an interim basis after it was discovered the previous financial officer had lifted more than $400,000 from the health agency, bringing the house of cards down.
One councillor suggested the answers to all questions were right in council chambers, Bruni sitting right there. But another leaped to his defence, suggesting the other was questioning Bruni’s integrity.
That, of course, was hogwash. All that was being asked was that council’s representative, who was sitting right there, tell council and the public what the fuss was all about.
It was actually left to Eric Hoskins, the minister of health, to clean house. He demanded an got the resignations of Bruni, vice-chair Janet Blake, Ron Rody and Debbie Kirby, the only remaining members of the board who were there when the misguided decisions were made.
Council also didn’t come out looking all that well in another instance concerning this sorry story.
Marinich didn’t apply for reappointment to the APH board for the 2014 year, figuring Bruni would quash her application when it came before council. But Brenda Davies, an ally of Marinich’s who was another voice of reason on the previous board but who wasn’t there for the votes on getting involved with a marijuana grow-op or hiring Rothberg, did.
Born and raised in the Sault, Davies started and ended her career at APH, with about 24 years in-between in public health in Middlesex-London, Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph Health Unit and Peel Health Department. She also taught a year at Sault College, 1985-86, and spent time as a nurse at EMDC Corrections, full-time and part-time, from 1982-1985.
A perfect fit, one would think, and yet council didn’t reappoint her.
Taking this walk down memory lane, I still find it hard to believe that all this, the huge theft at APH, the hiring of a convicted criminal to run its finances, its plans to partner with a marijuana grow-op, occurred at one operation in our usually quiet city.