This article was updated with new information on Dec. 1
As the policy review committee of Carleton Place wound down its agenda on Nov. 28, long-simmering tensions between Mayor Louis Antonakos and members of council once more boiled over, with accusations hurled, a threat to remove the mayor from chambers for being out of order, and a thinly veiled call for Antonakos to resign.
The chaotic atmosphere proved an ironic counterpoint to the evening’s earlier presentation of congratulatory certificates to graduates of the 2017 Municipal Academy program, a free training course on municipal governance and parliamentary procedure whose participants were encouraged to run for public office by the mayor.
Graduates of the program sitting in the public gallery were then witness to another example of what has become an increasingly fractious council environment. At issue was a motion to make public a previously scheduled in camera item related to an integrity commission complaint made by local developer Volundur Thorbjornsson, who wrote that “while one of my potential tenants was at Town Hall working on his building permits, [Mayor Louis] Antonakos approached him to give his personal opinion on my work ethics and my business. Mr. Antonakos went so far as to advise my client to cease all work with me. My understanding from various tenants who work with me is that this is not the first time Mr. Antonakos has attempted to thwart my efforts.”
Thorbjornsson added that the owner of Kids World, a business scheduled to open its doors in Carleton Place in February, considered moving his venture to Arnprior after hearing from Antonakos. “I had to initiate extensive damage control to steer him back on track to stay in Carleton Place,” Thorbjornsson wrote. “It would have been a great opportunity lost if Mr. Antonakos had gotten his way.”
When councillors agreed to pull the topic into public session, they shared the reasoning for doing so, noting that “council has been privy to only one side of the story. To be fair to both parties and due to the seriousness of this complaint, council should hear the mayor’s version as to what transpired.”
Antonakos began his comments by declaring “I am certain our residents are getting tired of these constant obstructions which continue to block relevant information from being disseminated out into our community….I am asking that any and all documents regarding complaints” be released to the public.
At that point, the meeting chair, Councillor Brian Doucett, ruled the mayor out of order, but Antonakos kept talking through him.
“Do you want me to make another ruling your worship?” Doucett demanded. “I did it before and I’ll do it again.”
As Doucett tried to wrangle Antonakos back into order, the mayor complained about his sentences getting cut off, and declared “your persistent interest in rehashing or wasting resources regarding this developer is highly suspect. Why are you asking me to respond to a complaint that has already been dealt with?”
The town’s integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, had indeed responded to the complaint. But according to Thorbjornsson, “He dismissed it with the recommendation that I would take the mayor to court on this matter. He felt that this breach was serious enough that the court should handle it and not an integrity commissioner.”
In reading from what appeared to be a prepared statement, Antonakos introduced an unparliamentary barnyard epithet into the council chamber. He claimed that in a phone call to the store owner in question, the complaint was referred to as “bulls—,” adding that the store owner “would testify against Mr. Thorbjornsson’s accusations in any proceeding if necessary.”
Later in the evening, Thorbjornsson said there was no proof of the mayor’s phone call, and asked why, if the store owner was so willing to testify, “how come he wasn’t invited here tonight?” Reached after the council meeting by Hometown News, the store owner in question said he wants to focus on his new business venture and not the politics of the town. He said he is grateful to Thorbjornsson for his assistance, and denies the allegations made by the mayor.
Antonakos then turned his sights on Thorbjornsson, Deputy Mayor Jerry Flynn and former Mayor Paul Dulmage, noting that they are “individuals who I have to deal with and work as mayor of Carleton Place. It is not something I enjoy doing, but I do it because that is part of my role to protect that health and safety of the community and the municipality. Seeing everyone in this room now, and knowing what some of you do after our meetings, especially the deputy mayor, is without question the most disgusting and unprofessional behavior I have seen in all my years on council.”
An outraged Doucett immediately jumped in to prevent Antonakos from going any further. “Point of order, you’re cut off buddy,” he declared. “I will have you removed. Don’t try me. I warn you.”
“You go ahead,” Antonakos challenged him.
Councillor Sean Redmond also chimed in, directing his comments to Antonakos. “You’re right, we are all getting tired of this,” he said. “I ask you to please do your part to end this.” Redmond has twice called on the mayor to resign in previous sessions of council, including when the integrity commissioner found earlier this year that Antonakos had committed “the most egregious disclosure of confidential information I have ever encountered in nine years serving as an integrity commissioner.”
Unhappy with the mayor’s response, Flynn re-read the motion and asked Antonakos, “Will you please tell us what transpired, and stop the attacks?”
Speaking with Hometown News after the meeting, Flynn called the mayor’s statements a “blatant attack with groundless accusations. Socrates once said, ‘When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser.’”
Meanwhile, Doucett expressed his frustration as he tried to bring the meeting to a conclusion.
Addressing his comments to Antonakos, he said, “I’ve been patient. I’ve tried to be patient, but I’m through with patience. We’ve run out of it, regrettably. We simply asked you a simple question and as usual we didn’t get a simple answer. In fact, we got no answer, which isn’t usual…It doesn’t matter, your worship, what anyone says, you will try and insert a word, you will try and insert a definition, you will try and twist something so it doesn’t even resemble what it started out as, and as chair, I am moving that this discussion is pretty much over.”
Councillor Theresa Fritz expressed her concern about the motion as well as the tone of discussion. “I think we have a serious issue here, it’s one of many that we’re dealing with,” she said. “Where I am sure that I stand is I would caution the mayor that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. If you want to question what people do after council meetings, why don’t you take a look in the mirror, sir?”
Thorbjornsson, sitting in the gallery with the Municipal Academy certificate he had received from the mayor earlier in the evening, shared his sense of befuddlement with council.
“The issue to me was very simple,” he said. “The mayor of our community tried to stop a member of this community to go into business dealing with me. Not one, but two, and I’ve provided proof of that. As somebody that should be the leader, the main person in bringing this community forward, he is doing exactly the opposite, he is trying to – because of personal reasons – he is trying to talk people out of doing business with me and opening up new businesses here. To me that is absolutely unacceptable.” He added that one of the store owners in question had confirmed to him, to community members, and to one media outlet that “the mayor tried to intervene.”
Fritz appeared to sum up the sentiments of council when she concluded that if the allegations were true, it would be “very serious for the community, and it would be a shame to think that this kind of thing might be going on. I don’t know if it is or it isn’t, but I definitely think that this is not the place that we should be discussing this. I think that the parties in question have issues. They will need to take them outside of this chamber. This is not something that we were elected to adjudicate on. If in fact it’s true, it’s very shameful. We should be promoting economic development and growth, not deterring it.”
Doucett closed the meeting by informing the parties that they could pursue something further under the town’s code of ethics or through civil litigation.
Antonakos has not returned requests for comment from Hometown News.