Is Niagara Regional Government’s intervention needed to Make Pelham Great Again?
A News Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted March 31st, 2017 on Niagara At Large
Thank God we have David Barrick on Niagara’s regional council. What a profile in courage! What a crusader for Niagara’s taxpayer!
The Port Colborne regional councillor took time out from representing his own municipality on the Region’s council and from his full-time job as director of corporate services at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority to drill down in to the Town of Pelham’s financial books and what he claims he found is not a pretty picture.
To wade through all of the ‘Whereas’s’ in a motion Barrick tabled at the regional council meeting this past Thursday (March 30th night) – a motion that, at the bottom of it, calls on Pelham’s mayor and council to pull of their fiscal socks, exercise more public disclosure when it comes to their financial statements and restore public trust in the way they operate their affairs, and that seemed to take Barrick longer to read than the time it takes to hard boil a dozen eggs – one would conclude that Pelham’s budget is about to explode in ways that triggers an economic earthquake across the entire region.
The Pelham council has debentured so much money to pay for things like building a new community centre, Barrick charges, it has the potential to cause Niagara’s regional government, which is faced with having to underwrite debts accumulated by any of the region’s 12 local municipalities, to end up with a negative credit rating that could hurt every person who lives and does business here.
When Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn learned just days before the regional council meeting that Barrick was planning to table the motion, he and members of his town’s council and staff also prepared more than 300 pages of reports to answer the questions and concerns the Port Colborne councillor raised.
On Monday, March 27th, four days before the meeting, Augustyn also released a statement calling Barrick’s motion “pure fantasy from someone who cannot read financial statements. (and) is formulated to mislead and misrepresent the Town’s financial position.
When Barrick finally got around to reading the motion this March 30th, he blew away any criticism of his abilities to understand budget numbers or any “mention of any other issue not related to this is a cheap excuse and a deflection about the issue.”
“This matter,” stressed the Port Colborne regional councillor,” is not about me.”
Barrick, as some of us have come to understand from watching him on council for a while now, has little tolerance for cheap excuses and deflections from others, just as he made it clear late last when he was one of only a couple of regional councillors who voted against hiring another integrity commissioner that he was concerned that an integrity commissioner would be used by some to go on “witch hunts.” And it’s hard to disagree with Barrick there.
Who among us likes cheap excuses or witch hunts, whether they occur in an organization or workplace where we are a member or employed, or where Barrick is employed at the NPCA?
Barrick made reference to his status as chair of the regional government’s budget committee on his way to saying that his grim assessment of Pelham’s financial status is a correct one.
“It is not wrong. It is different,” he added, as one of the regional councillors sitting across from him could be heard muttering “alternative fact” – a phrase Kellyanne Conway, one of Donald Trump’ spokespersons, used to defend Trump’ claim that he had a larger public turnout at his inauguration than former president Barack Obama had at either of his.
After Barrick finished reading his motion and calling off any cheap excuses or deflections that might come hi way, Grimsby regional councillor Tony Quack (Sorry, that was a typo. The last name is Quirk) was quick to second the motion.
Quack explained that earlier on he was not much in to the idea of the regional government looking so deeply in to a local municipalities finances. But after Barrick came forth with all his information, he now feels that, as chair of the Region’s audit committee, it is important to take a harder look at Pelham’s numbers (which is more than a little interesting given that local municipal councillors and residents across Niagara and Hamilton have been lobbying for months for a third-party, independent audit of the NPCA, where Quack also sits as one of the Conservation Authority’s board members.
Augustyn then rose, hoping to respond to the motion but another regional councillor, Selina Volpatti, tabled a motion, referring any further review or discussion of the matter to a June 12th meeting of the audit committee.
With that, more than two dozen residents who were sitting in the gallery and looking on with concern at all this, made their way out of the chambers and in to the lobby of the Region’s headquarters where St. Catharines regional councillor Andy Petrowski followed them out to talk a spell.
Petrowski, who I last saw this March 29th, coming to an NPCA board meeting sporting one of those bright red ‘Make America Great Again’ ball caps you would see people wearing at Donald Trump rallies, proceeded to tell the people in the lobby how concerned he is about the apparently reckless way Pelham’s mayor and council are spending tax dollars, and how concerned he is that it could hit them and every one of us in Niagara very hard in the pocketbook.
He went on to tell a disturbing story about how he once came to a Pelham council meeting, prepared to read in to the record for a resident of Pelham who could not attend, a statement of concern about the financial impact the new community centre could have on town and the region as a whole. But low and behold, he was called out of order by the mayor who, he said, went so far as to file complaint against him to that dreaded integrity commissioner.
Poor Petrowski. There he is trying to fight for the tax payer and doing his part to make Pelham great again, and someone complains to the integrity commissioner.
It’s another one of those witch hunts Barrick warned about.
As the people stood there in the lobby, Petrowski went on talking about how hard it is to fight the good fight for Niagara’s tax payers, and he made a reference to “fake news” at one point, although he was generous enough to say that at least sometimes I get a story right.
I found that heartening and I drove home from the March 30th regional council meeting more impressed than ever at the lengths some regional councillors are willing to go to watchdog of the finances of a local municipality the size of Pelham.
It had me paraphrasing a line or two from one of the late Rodney Dangerfield’s movies – “They really seem to care. About what, I have no idea?”
Well maybe I have a few ideas. How about you?
More on this one later.
To listen to an interview on this issue with Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn this March 31st, 2017 on Tim Denis’s CKTB Radio show, click on – http://www.iheartradio.ca/610cktb?autoplay=1.2508166
To read a related commentary posted on Niagara At Large, including a copy of Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick’s whole motion, click on – https://niagaraatlarge.com/2017/03/27/town-of-pelhams-financial-affairs-could-hurt-niagara-regions-credit-rating-port-colborne-regional-councillor-warns/ .
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