At The Very Least, An Official Letter of Apology to the Town of Pelham Is In Order
A News Commentary from Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper
Posted December 1st, 2017 on Niagara At Large
I was driving along Lafayette Street in Buffalo, New York a few weeks ago – past some of the most beautiful homes you could ever imagine being built during the early decades of the last century – when I notice the car in front of me sporting a bumper sticker that read; ‘If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention!”
Yes, that’s what it read – “If you aren’t outraged, you aren’t paying attention!” – a message that seemed completely out of place in this idyllic old neighbourhood where it seemed to me, there was little, if anything, to be outraged about.
Sad to say, it is a message that rings all too loudly in certain settings back here in Niagara, Ontario, including one I attended this past November 29th in Pelham, where the town’s council held a “special meeting” in a high school cafeteria packed with some 300 people.
The people came to that high school cafeteria, many of them with concerned and worried looks on their face, for the unveiling of a third-party, independent audit of its books in the wake of charges coming mostly forcefully from a cabal of big-mouthed bullies and creeps at Niagara’s regional government level that the Town of Pelham has somehow mismanaged its way to a financial meltdown.
As I said in a briefer news commentary on this meeting that I posted on Niagara At Large in the hours after it was over, one would have thought (so I can hardly blame the town residents who packed that cafeteria for feeling worried and possibly even angry at the town’s mayor, Dave Augustyn and members of his council) Pelham is about to explode in a fiscal time bomb that takes the rest of the Niagara region and its credit rating with it – especially after all the months of listening to David Barrick, a Port Colborne regional councillor and chair of the regional government’s corporate services committee and other members of regional chair Al Calsin’s cabal charging that Augustyn and the town council were doing all kinds of reckless and irresponsible things with tax money and property acquisitions around development taking place in the east end of the Pelham community of Fonthill.
But as I reported in that short piece this November 29th, there was no fiscal time bomb. There wasn’t even a firecracker to match the hand grenade that Barrick first rolled into the room last spring with a long-winded motion, loaded with incendiary language, accusing the Town of Pelham of mismanaging its finances and demanding an audit of the town’s books.
And then there was all this stuff over one of the town’s councillors – one Marvin Junkin – suddenly resigning his seat on the Pelham council, in a flurry of reports over some other audit that was done and something about $17 million in “unreported debt” facing the town. Then another round of regional council and committee sessions with members of the cabal jumping up and down out of their seats, charging over and over again, that something very fishy seems to be going on in the Town of Pelham.
Earlier this fall, we even had the unprecedented spectacle of a Niagara area developer in the regional council chambers, waving a cheque for $50,000 in front of our elected councillors, offering to pay for an audit of Pelham’s books – and no one on the council stood up and argued that a move like that might be out of order,
Yet I recall Augustyn, who as mayor of a local municipality has a seat on regional council, being stopped through deferral motions or instructed to sit down at least twice over the past eight months when he tried to stand up to answer charges that the town mismanaging its finances. At one recent regional council meeting, he was even asked to apologies after he stood and responded that information attributed to the now ex-Pelham councillor and others about the state of the town’s books was incorrect and confused – and of course, being one of those we are still fortunate enough to still have in municipal office in this region who conduct themselves with some decency and civility, Augustyn apologized even though at least some of us out there felt he had nothing to apologise for.
So after all of that, there we were in the high school cafeteria on November 29th where we find out from independent experts from the financial firm KPMG, following an audit they conducted, that Augustyn and his council have done nothing improper around this whole east Fonthill development business and there is no unreported debt.
Then it is reported this December 1stin The St. Catharines Standard that before the KPMG representatives even released the results of their audit, Niagara’s regional government had sent a memorandum to the Town of Pelham’s lenders, notifying them of allegations raised about the town’s financial situation.
Wow! What the hell is that all about? And why wouldn’t the regional government at least wait to learn the result of the KPMG audit before doing something that could cause some serious damage to the town’s ability to loan money and do business?
Gary Burroughs, a regional councillor for the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake who was regional chair during more civil times, is now calling for a special meeting of the region’s audit committee in an attempt to get to the bottom of this mess and to assess what damage may have been done to the Town of Pelham as a result.
It’s hard to image there hasn’t been some damage after all of these months of yelling about the fiscal sky falling on this town which has always had such a good reputation as a place to live and do business. It would not be surprising to find people out there who may have changed their minds about buying a home or investing in a business in Pelham because of all these months of charges made against the town’s leaders and the way they manage finances.
So here we are now, with an independent audit by a major accounting firm countering those charges and a headline on the front page of Niagara’s largest daily newspaper reading; “Audit clears Pelham.”
Someone sure owes an apology here, and it isn’t Dave Augustyn?
government, and not the town, should be picking up the tab when the bill for the KPMG audit comes in.
But there is a much larger problem here, folks, and it has to do with a divisive, ugly edge to this administration of Niagara regional council that has those of us with enough stomach left to keep following it witnessing one dumpster fire after another, whether it is spurious changes over a local municipality’s finances, or code of conduct policies, or trying to tar a local MPP with anti-Semitism or the mess at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, or something else.
We are now 10 months away from the next municipal elections and in all of my almost 40 years of covering municipal affairs in Niagara, I cannot think of a time when it has been more important for all of us who live in this region and are old enough to vote to get involved and make sure we get the right people elected the next time.
It is time for what good and decent people we still have in municipal government and for the rest of us across Niagara to push back and shut down the shit shows we’ve been enduring at the regional level for the past three years.
Our future in this Niagara region, and the health and prosperity of the communities we want for ourselves and future generations, absolutely depends on it!
More on this and related issues in Niagara At Large in the days and weeks and months ahead. Stay Tuned!
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