“I am sad that Pelham’s residents and businesses have been dragged through an emotional roller coaster with these unfounded allegations.” – Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn
“It’s disheartening that some Niagara politicians and partisans relied on mistruths and misrepresentations to sow the seeds of doubt in our community since last spring. It’s sad how they have used confusion, fear and doubt to try to persuade people that something had gone awry or been improper.” – Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn
A Column by Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn
Posted May 14th, 2018 on Niagara At Large
Town of Pelham in Niagara, Ontario – Our Town Council was relieved and pleased last week after Pelham had again been cleared of further allegations of wrongdoing regarding our finances.
First, a letter from Ontario Municipal Affairs Minister Bill Mauro indicated that the Province will not conduct a provincial municipal audit. You will recall that in February, a majority of Niagara Regional Councillors supported a petition from last Fall which called on the province to undertake another financial audit of the Town.
The Region’s Council “endorsed” the petition even though it was prepared and signed before the results of KPMG’s Forensic Investigation in November/December.
Minister Mauro wrote: “The provincial government recognizes municipalities as responsible and accountable governments, with the authority to make decisions on matters within their own jurisdictions, including management of their finances. As such, the Ministry will not be proceeding with a provincial municipal audit.”
Second, you will recall that this controversy and the call for a forensic investigation arose from allegations made by a former member of Pelham Council (Marvin Junkin) about discussions during an in camera (closed session) meeting on September 5, 2017.
While Mr. Junkin alleged “unethical and dishonest” behaviour, he also provided no proof when he urged the Region to investigate his allegations (see “Ex-councillor cannot prove claims against Pelham,” St. Catharines Standard, 29 November 2017).
D8spite this lack of evidence, a majority of Regional Councillors echoed that call for an investigation and cautioned the Town’s lender in mid-November.
Pelham was cleared of those financial allegations when KPMG (one of the continent’s a major financial accounting firm) presented during a public meeting on November 29 and when they provided reports of their forensic investigation and answers to community questions on December 18.
Third, Pelham was cleared again following a review by Infrastructure Ontario (IO) in February and March 2018. IO undertook that review because of the Region’s unfounded allegations from mid-November.
After IO reconfirmed the Town’s finances, Regional Chair Caslin was compelled to provide an acknowledgement to IO that the Region would live up to the obligations in the Community Centre’s debenture agreement; he did so prior to the Regional Council meeting on March 22, 2018.
Yet, one allegation remained. That was about whether it was legal for Town Council to discuss HR matters behind closed doors during our September 5 meeting.
We are pleased, therefore, that Ontario Ombudsman Paul Dubé recently cleared the Town of allegations about that meeting. The Ombudsman’s report states: “Council for the Town of Pelham did not contravene the Municipal Act, 2001 on September 5, 2017, when it discussed a consultant’s report, received legal advice, and received a presentation from staff in camera”.
I am sad that Pelham’s residents and businesses have been dragged through an emotional roller coaster with these unfounded allegations.
It’s disheartening that some Niagara politicians and partisans relied on mistruths and misrepresentations to sow the seeds of doubt in our community since last spring. It’s sad how they have used confusion, fear and doubt to try to persuade people that something had gone awry or been improper.
That’s why others have suggested that the Town ask the Region to foot the bill for legal fees and KPMG’s Forensic Investigation – which costed more than $165,000 to defend our community against these allegations.
That works out to a 1.5% on the Pelham portion of your tax bill! Or, put another way, we could have reduced your Town taxes by 1.5% this year had we not had those expenses…
What do you think?
Now that we have been cleared of all allegations, should we ask the Region to pay for these out-of-pocket expenses? Please let me and/or your Town Councillor know this week – because this will be discussed during our May 22 Town Council meeting.
Now that the Town has again been cleared yet again, Council and I look forward to completing the Community Centre on time and on budget, to our upcoming award-winning festivals and events season, and to focusing on other measures to enhance the quality of life for residents.
A Brief Commentary on the contents in the Pelham Mayor’s column by Niagara At Large reporter and publisher Doug Draper –
While I hope that at least some of you share your views on this in the space below, I can’t help taking up Dave Augustyn’s invitation and sharing a few thoughts myself.
First of all, shame on all of those Niagara regional councillors (especially some of the other mayors in Niagara) for voting over and over again, since March of last year, to keep this slime job on the Town of Pelham, in the name of its mayor and town council, dragging on for more than a year!
Each and every one of them should be made to answer for the waste of time and money (our time and money) grabbing on to accusations that to some, at least seemed (including a minority on the regional council who showed the courage to stand up for the town’s mayor and council) seemed suspect from the get go.
Each and every one of the regional councillors and mayors who voted in favour of one motion after another to keep this regional government-sponsored tar job on one of our local municipalities going should be made to answer to the voters of this Niagara region in the coming October 22nd municipal elections.
What should be most disturbing to those of us who pay taxes to municipal governments in Niagara is that some of the most vocal drivers of this campaign – Port Colborne regional councillor David Barrick, Niagara Falls regional councillor Bob Gale and Grimsby regional councillor Tony Quirk – also hold key positions – they are chairs of the Region’s corporate services committee, the regional police services board and the Region’s audit committee, respectively – three committees that have a great deal to do with directing and monitoring the spending of hundreds of millions of our tax dollars each year.
If any justice comes out of this sorry saga, those individuals, along with another one holding the job where the buck should stop – Niagara’s regional chair Al Caslin – will be looking at the back of their careers in municipal by the end of this year.
That’s our job, my fellow voters. This election year, we can’t afford to fall down on it!
Finally, and before I leave the topic of justice, if I were the Mayor of Pelham, I would rally the town’s council to hire the sharpest and meanest ‘take-no-prisoners’ lawyer on municipal law in the province to fire off a note to the powers-that-be at the regional government level – giving them 30 days to issue a formal apology to the Town of Pelham and to financially compensate its taxpayers for all of the time and money this business cost.
The note should warn that should a formal public apology and compensation not come in 30 days, the Town of Pelham will sue them for financial costs and, yes, for defaming the town and those who govern it.
My final wish would be that should the town launch and win such a suit, the money comes out of the pockets of those who led or played a principle role in enabling this business, rather than out of the regional tax coffers.
How much easier it is to pull this kind of stuff when you are using someone else’s money. In this case, ours.
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