05/08/2013 16:11 EDT | Updated 07/08/2013 05:12 EDT

Former mayor blames ignorance for doing nothing about Elliot Lake mall

The former mayor of Elliot Lake says neither he nor his council knew they had the power to force an inspection on the Algo Centre Mall or to shut it down if required.

George Farkouh, who was the mayor of the northern Ontario community from 1988-2006, also sat for six years on the Elliot Lake Retirement Living board, the corporation that owned the Algo Centre Mall.

During his testimony May 2 and 7 at the inquiry looking into the mall’s fatal roof collapse in June of last year, Farkouh responded to questions from commission lawyer Peter Doody, who pressed him why nothing was done to enforce the mall’s owner to fix the roof.

- Listen:George Farkouh's testimony

“Did you give any consideration to asking the chief building official of the city to conduct an inspection and determine whether or not an order could be issued under the property standards bylaw,” Doody asked.

Farkouh responded, “as I stated earlier, Mr. Doody, it never occurred to me, or to any members of council, that the property standards bylaw would have been the vehicle to implement an order and address this issue. That is something that, had I known, it would have been done. But at that point in time ... we didn't realize that the property standards committee had that kind of authority and power in it to affect this.”

Doody then asked, “if you had known you would have done something?”

“Yes, I would have,” Farkouh replied.

To which Doody countered, “even if doing something risked closing the mall?”

“Yes, sir,” Farkouh said.

Secret meetings denied

During testimony on May 2, Farkouh spoke to evidence presented to the inquiry that indicated council conducted illegal meetings on a monthly basis, to as far back as 1994.

Farkouh denied city council met secretly and said the public wasn't forbidden from attending.

Doody then read an e-mail written by a city employee in 2005.

"Shannon from the standard attended."

The inquiry heard from this e-mail that local reporter Shannon Quesnel came to one of these caucus meetings.

After two items on the agenda were completed, former mayor George Farkouh escorted the reporter out the door.

"We all then went to the mayor's office to finish off the ‘meeting’,” Doody read.

Farkouh said he couldn’t remember this happening, and insisted the monthly meetings were not conducted in secret.

"And I make it again under oath, to the best of my knowledge, those meetings were not closed meetings and they were open to the public,’ he said.

The meetings took place at city hall, and they were meant to bring councillors together, outside of the formal meetings, he noted, “where there could be this informal and free exchange of information and ideas."

Although agendas were created for most of these meetings, no minutes were recorded.