This Time They Were After One Of Their Favorite Targets – Pelham’s Mayor & Town Council
A Commentary by Doug Draper
Posted February 9th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
“Gee Toto,” said Dorothy as she looked around, dazed and confused, at her new surroundings in OZ-land, “I don’t think we are in Kansas anymore.”
Maybe we were not at a meeting of Niagara’s regional council either. It seemed more like a meeting of the Town of Pelham’s council, given all of the discussion and material in the agenda about the municipality’s finances,
Or maybe we were somewhere over the rainbow in the haunted forest.
It most surely seemed so at this Thursday, February 8th’s regional council meeting because there were those flying monkeys, swooping down through the gnarly trees, chasing after Pelham’s mayor, Dave Augustyn, and his town council again.
Last spring, some of those same flying monkeys, in the name of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority’s board of directors, swooped down on then fellow NPCA board member and Lincoln regional councillor Bill Hodgson, and ripped the stuffing out of him with a motion of censure for reasons that had something to do with wanting an independent, third party to audit the Conservation Authority’s books.
This February 8th, those monkeys and more were back, this time in the Niagara regional council chambers, for yet another episode of let’s get to the bottom of whatever is going on with the way finances are being managed by the mayor and members of his council in the Town of Pelham.
And you knew it was going to be a doozy before it got started with more than 300 pages – that’s right, enough pages to print an illustrated edition of L. Frank Baum’s ‘The Wizard Of Oz’ three or four times – of the 824-page agenda for the regional council meeting covered with nothing but reports about the Town of Pelham.
You would think, as Walter Sendzik, the mayor for the City of St. Catharines, tried to say at the getting of the meeting, that the regional government didn’t have enough other issues on its hand, from Niagara’s higher than average unemployment, to affordable housing and public transit – not to mention what to do about regional councillors; expense claims and the regional police budget.
But why focus more attention than we want to on those sore points when we can spend another three hours going down the Town of Pelham rabbit hole – even after, and in spite of motions passed by a total of four local Niagara councils now, Port Colborne, Welland, Thorold and St. Catharines, that the regional government stop it relentless interference in Pelham’s financial business.
Indeed, since Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick, who also serves as chair of the regional government’s corporate services committee, first tabled a motion a year ago last March, charging that Pelham’s council was mismanaging its finances in ways that could hurt the region’s credit rating, the town has held public meetings and hired the international financial firm of KPMG to investigate its books.
The town invited local residents and others to share their questions and concerns, unfiltered by the council, with the firm as it continued its probe and last November the probe was completed with “no unreported debt” to be found, according to senior KPMG consultant Karen Gorgan, and nothing else to support Barrick’s characterization of the town – as he put it again this February 8th – as anything so disastrous a “financial train wreck” either.
Yet still the questions rage on and on, and not only for a group of mostly older residents in the town who call themselves Pelham DEBT and who may or may not be reflective of the of the views of the population at large in the town. They also rage on for Barrick and for Grimsby regional councillor Tony Quirk, who has kept the pot boiling as chair of the region’s audit committee, and for a cast of others who make up what at least some of us in Niagara have taken to calling a cabal on a council chaired this term by former St. Catharines regional councillor Al Caslin.
And why not?
As Barrick reasoned at this past February 8th regional council meeting, perhaps the water contamination disaster that killed seven people and made thousands of others seriously ill in Walkerton, Ontario 18 years ago would not have happened if individuals were out there asking questions earlier on.
He actually brought up Walkerton. What in hell does Walkerton have to do with any of this?
Here we have a bunch of regional councillors who’ve taken to repeatedly accusing local media outlets in recent months of misinforming, exaggerating and misleading reports, and one of them is raising the specter of one of the worst water pollution disasters in modern Canadian history in a discussion over financial issues in Pelham.
I would be willing to bet my house that if Augustyn, who members of the cabal clearly don’t much care for, stood up at a regional council meeting and used the Walkerton disaster to press concerns he may have about business practices at the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority, where Barrick is employed fulltime as a corporate services director, others on that council would be calling Augustyn’s comments out of order and demanding that he apologies.
But no one called Barrick’s Walkerton reference out of order or asked him for an apology – not in this haunted forest where the flying monkeys reigned on.
After close to three hours of this, it was finally time for the regional council to vote on a motion by Pelham regional representative, Brian Baty, to ask the provincial government to do another investigation of the town’s books.
Oddly enough, and for reasons that left others around me in the regional headquarters, scratching their heads, if not chuckling a little, Baty padded his final remarks with a quotation from a decades-old Pogo cartoon that went like this – “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
I found myself imagining (or at least wanting to imagine) that Baty was talking about himself and others who make up the cabal on regional council, which left me thinking that this was one of the most agreeable things I heard at this meeting all night.
Baty’s motion, supporting the Pelham DEBT group’s call for the province to intervene and do a forensic audit of its own, passed with the support of many of the same regional councillors who, barely a year and a half ago, voted against the regional government or some other third party doing an audit on the books of the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority.
By the time the motion was passed, it was going on 10 p.m. and despite a number of other items buried at the back end of the agenda, like Dorothy and Toto I’d had enough of flying monkeys and bogus wizards, and I just wanted to go home.
I drove home with the line Baty quoted from the Pogo cartoon racing through my mind as I wondered where are all the people in Pelham who mostly like the way the mayor and council are running the town,
I’ve heard over and over again that those people are out there, and that they may even outnumber those who make up this Pelham DEBT group by quite a large number.
If so, when are they going to finally stand up and demand that Barrick and company stop trashing the financial health of their town in ways that could be doing harm to the value of their homes and businesses.
No wonder the councils of at least four local municipalities in Niagara have so far told this regional council to back off.
Port Colborne city councillor Barbara Butters recently called the relentless questioning of Pelham’s financial affairs by regional councillors like Barrick a “witch hunt.”
Amen to that. And isn’t it a witch in OZ-land that has something to do with unleashing those flying monkeys?
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