Airing of grievances over Midland Police spat on taxpayers’ dime
September 30, 2022 By Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Sept. 30, 2022, Midland, Ont. – A complex entanglement of threads nearly unraveled this summer, only to become another Gordian knot with Midland taxpayers holding the frayed ends.
In May, a years-long conflict involving the 2018 disbandment of the Midland Police Service (MPS) was resolved. The most recent attempt in a long string to charge Mike Osborne and Bill Gordon of criminal wrongdoing resulted in the OPP clearing the two of allegations.
Osborne was the town’s former Chief of Police, since retired. Gordon was a civilian employee of MPS in the IT department at that time, and is currently a town councillor seeking a mayoral bid for next month’s municipal election.
Upon Midland council’s decision in 2017 to disband the MPS and transition to OPP policing services, a request was made for sensitive, encrypted information on the MPS servers to be handled appropriately – that meant different things to different people, however.
The Midland Police Services Board (PSB) in 2018 consisted of Mayor Stewart Strathearn, Deputy Mayor Mike Ross, and chair George Dixon. The PSB directed town employee Osborne in 2017 and 2018 to retain all MPS records. According to the town of Midland, in order to comply with Freedom of Information requests, lawsuit responses and various subpoenas, it needed access to the encrypted MPS records.
Both Osborne and Gordon viewed the opposite. Being sensitive police data, the two were reluctant to hand over the information to the town, instead wanting assurances that the OPP would be the ones to host the data and the ones to provide redacted Midland-only information back when required.
Lawsuits erupted, amounting to nearly a dozen over four years. It was the town of Midland versus the town of Midland. The taxpayers paid. The matter was resolved on May 25 of this year, but that’s not where the story ends.
Three documents have since provided all parties’ points of view this summer, all as a result of Gordon’s immediate domino effect.
A two-hour closed session of council on May 25 involved the MPS matter. It was followed immediately with the regular meeting, where nearly two additional hours later during the announcements portion usually reserved for bake sales and acts of community generosity, Gordon motioned to speak.
“I just think it’s worthy of announcing that the latest – hopefully the last – attempt to have me charged criminally by the OPP, by Mr. Dixon and presumably with the blessing of the CAO and this council, was unsuccessful yet again and I was cleared and so is Mr. Osborne, my former chief. So that ends the criminality investigations; this is the 11th one in the past four years. And hopefully there are no further ones now that this is over,” Gordon publicly announced in the meeting.
Coun. Jonathan Main spoke next, saying: “I feel very uncomfortable following that. That was highly inappropriate, but thank you.” Gordon tucked his hands into his arms and smiled.
On May 26, hours after his public announcement, Gordon posted a three-page explainer, prediction, and mayoral bid pitch on his personal webpage that laid everything bare from his perspective.
In the release, Gordon: accused the town and MPS of a “vendetta” against Osborne and “vengeance” against himself; cited six-digit personal litigation expenses; and pointed out that Main had joined Ross and Coun. Jim Downer in launches of “successive complaints of code of conduct breaches” against himself.
Reference was made to the MPS policing model, claiming millions spent in the OPP transition without any savings as of yet, and Osborne “who has been locked in litigation trying to get the settlement guaranteed by his contract.”
“This extortion is still in play with the legal bills unpaid and no clear end in sight,” wrote Gordon. “The interest alone on this unpaid debt, legal fees and whatever damages we may be ordered to pay the law firm are likely at least a percentage point on the next tax increase – except you won’t see it since in my four years on council I cannot get anyone to show me where our legal liabilities for these expenses show up on any department’s budget.”
Seemingly the end of the matter, Midland council instead instructed staff to release a public statement on July 15 to fact check Gordon’s May 26 post. Their response focused on the MPS encrypted files, the reluctant compliance of Osborne and Gordon which resulted in legal proceedings, and certain emails in the records where Osborne instructed Gordon “to find a justification for destroying a large number of MPS hard drives just before disbandment” despite the PSB direction to keep all records.
Seemingly the end of the matter again, a lengthy statement of response from Osborne was provided on September 16 and reposted through Gordon’s personal website along with a preface from Gordon. In the dense piece, Osborne shared his perspective, which presented a town’s multi-year attempt to discredit him.
“After more than seven years of harassment by your appointed representatives to the Midland PSB and waiting eight years to resolve my contract, I thought we had finally reached an agreement at arbitration to resolve our differences and move on. However,” Osborne continued, “this release (Midland, July 15) clearly demonstrates your intention to continue discrediting me in the community to advance your own political careers or personal agendas.”
The response began with Osborne’s lengthy accomplishments and awards before retorting the allegations, stating he didn’t refuse to provide MPS records to the OPP but instead, “I stopped communicating with the PSB and town because they were extorting me to provide the records in exchange for favourable contract negotiations.”
Roughly half of Osborne’s retort defended budget comparisons through charts and statistics, citing crime severity and performance indicators. These were not touched upon in the July 25 response by the town, but Osborne allotted quite some space to react nonetheless as a punctuation to how the PSB were targeting him.
“My comments are not meant to disparage the OPP but reveal how you as a Council and Board continually mislead and attack me personally to justify yourselves,” Osborne concluded. “I guess it makes it easier to treat a long serving, dedicated and effective employee terribly when you vilify them.”
MidlandToday reached out to all three parties for comments.
As far as why Gordon brought up the matter on May 25 and 26, he stated his response was due to a lack of announcement during the in-camera session of the council meeting.
“I was expecting to hear the fresh update shared to my peers during the legal update section of our in camera meeting that night,” he replied. “When that was omitted, I brought that good news to my council’s attention during the public session – where it received a tepid reception.”
For the town’s response on July 15, Midland CAO David Denault explained: “…council did receive questions by the public regarding the authored piece by the councillor. Council directed the public comment from the town to ensure the new information and responsible basis for the complaint was communicated.”
Both Gordon and Osborne responded that the town responded due to self-serving interests, with Gordon stating certainty that the July 15 statement was tantamount to their need to have the ‘last word’ in any argument,” with Osborne calling it “completely unnecessary.”
Denault further noted that Osborne’s September statement, “comments and allegations are Mr. Osborne’s self-admitted personal summary,” adding that any analysis, debate and decisions concluded “with a previous council and no further comment is offered.”
When asked what would happen next since all statements have been publicly aired, Denault replied that the town’s affairs would be managed responsibly, transparently and in a professional manner.
Gordon expected a ceasefire “just as their lawsuits and criminal allegations have all ended,” but noted the possibility that further published libel and slander could have the town facing litigation if such a future came to pass.
Osborne stated he had “been trying to move on and hope they would do the same” but also reiterated the “vindictive and vengeful” nature of those against him, suspecting “they will not stop as long as it fits their narrative and political or personal aspirations.”
And finally, the parties were asked when the matter would truly be concluded.
Gordon remarked, “This matter will end, technically, when the last outstanding legal bill owed for the prosecution of a former police officer is paid and a full accounting of the costs of disbanding the Midland Police Service are tabulated and made public,” further estimating a cost of $5 million to Midland ratepayers.
Denault replied, “The transition to police services occurred five years ago and we expect that everyone is focussed on moving forward and ensuring we support our community during a period of tremendous change, pressures and opportunity.”
Osborne stated, “This vendetta has cost the Town time, money, and unnecessary embarrassment, and with so much of their reputations dependent on proving themselves right, they seem unwilling to change the path forward.
He added, “I hope this is the end of it.”
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