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OP-ED: Stop the dodging, I’ll pay for the audit

Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn tries to prevent Rainer Hummel, right, from speaking before Regional Council in June. VOICE FILE PHOTO

BY RAINER HUMMEL

Mayor Augustyn and Pelham Town Council are putting more time and effort into attacking me personally and threatening legal action instead of openly addressing the many concerns held by the community. Since I voiced my concerns, I have received many messages of support from Pelham and I continue to call for more accountability and transparency from Mayor Augustyn and Town Council.

What was most disconcerting in the Town’s presentation last week was that it boiled down to a personal attack on a taxpayer, including the wholly misguided claim that my coming forward was merely politically motivated.  This line was echoed by the Mayor in another personal attack during a recent radio talk show.

Rainer Hummel. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Here are the unexciting facts. Five years ago I was one of more than 50 citizens asked to sit on a group of committees looking into the manner in which the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority was functioning.  This included several environmentalists, business leaders, community activists, and Niagara residents. Neither this committee, nor the numerous other committees and boards I’ve sat on over the years, have anything to do with Pelham’s questionable practices. The NPCA’s problems, whatever they may be, are their own. This is an embarrassingly flimsy straw for the Mayor continuously to grasp.

Why is such a personal attack against a taxpayer being conducted by a municipality anyway?

Is it not the responsibility of the taxpayer to hold elected officials to account?

Why does Pelham feel the need to bully taxpayers when they exercise their democratic rights and obligations? 

The personal attack on me appears to be a warning to any other ratepayers who question the administration’s taxpayer-funded spin campaign. It reeks of guilt. It seems little more than an attempt to deflect from the real issues.

The truth is usually quite simple and requires little in terms of explanation.  It is only when volumes of spin and 300-page-plus documents need to be produced that an alleged “explanation” starts looking more like a cover-up.

I stand by what I have said.

The Town has repeatedly publicly threatened legal action against me yet does not file a lawsuit.  Why not? 

If I have said something incorrect then please sue me and end these childish threats.  

It seems like the municipality was able to dig deep into the public purse to produce the original 300-page report, and once again finds ample taxpayer dollars to produce the latest round of spin.

Would it not be far more productive and transparent to follow the example of the Regional Councilor for Pelham, Brian Baty, and ask for an independent, third-party forensic audit?

There are only three issues here:

First, did the Town do a secret deal with a developer, wherein the Town agreed to buy land from the developer, land the developer did not even yet own, in exchange for some $3 million dollars’ worth of “Development Charge credits,” and was this credits scheme even legal?

Second, can parkland legally be purchased with Development Charges?

Third, why did the Mayor and his Town Council agree to pay $928,000 dollars per acre for this land when the going rate was approximately $150,000 to $200,000 per acre?

I could go through all the tit-for-tat items the Town asserts in its personal attack against me and discredit virtually every one of them.  I’m not playing the Town’s game of obfuscation.

A Town this deeply in debt cannot afford to have the taxpayer continue to fund its spin campaign. The truth is the simplest remedy, so I wish to once and for all put the issue to rest, and do so in a prudent and responsible manner. 

I am willing to pay the $50,000-dollar estimated cost of a forensic audit from my own pocket, so not to further burden the ratepayers of Pelham.  I ask that the terms of reference be dictated by the Region and that the Region choose a non-partisan, independent, forensic auditor to review the issues presented at Regional council with respect to land transactions and actions taken by the Town of Pelham on behalf of its taxpayers in the East Fonthill secondary plan.

I will be attending the Regional Audit Committee meeting later this month and I will be bringing a certified cheque made payable to the Regional Municipality of Niagara, in trust, for $50,000, so that a full accounting of the actions of the administration of Pelham can finally be independently reviewed.

If I am wrong I will apologize.  If I am correct, then I trust that the democratic system under which we all live will take the appropriate course of action.

There is no longer any excuse to not conduct a forensic audit.  Not unless there is something to hide. 

The rights of taxpayers do not come from the generosity of government, but from the taxpayers’ willingness to allow those they’ve elected to govern in their name.

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