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EDITORIAL: The dodge-ball game is done. Call in the province.

February 7, 2018

As Regional Council considers requesting a provincial investigation into Pelham’s finances, the Town has been up to its usual diversionary tricks. Mayor Dave Augustyn has been out lobbying in full force, telling anyone who will listen that the Region’s motion is nothing more than an attempt to bully both him and Pelham.

In a recent radio interview, the Mayor repeated his tired claim that the Region has no jurisdiction over municipal finances. His claim is misleading. While the Region can’t directly investigate our Town’s evidently dismal fiscal condition, it very much can do what it is contemplating: requesting the province—a body that does have direct authority—to do the job that must be done.

There is ample justification to make such a request. Reports submitted by KPMG in December­­­—reports that our Mayor raves as having “cleared” the Town—in fact revealed numerous disturbing facts.

First, it was confirmed that the Town systematically spent its reserve funds while Town staff made statements to Council that “appeared misleading.” Second, it was confirmed that the Town had seen a “significant drop” in its financial health. And third, rather pathetically, KPMG concluded that it was “unsure” as to whether a Town credit-for-land scheme was legal.

Despite the investigative restrictions placed on KPMG by the Town—no ex-staff or outside legal experts were consulted—it is plain to anyone who actually reads the reports that a deep dive is needed into Town Hall.

Pelham Town Hall seems to be banking on the fact that no one—not residents, not Niagara news media, and especially not the Regional Councillors voting on Thursday—has actually read KPMG’s findings. Perhaps the Mayor believes that if he repeats often enough that the Town has been “cleared” that it will magically become true.

Mayor Augustyn has recently been able to convince councillors in some other towns that the Region’s actions are “diversion tactics and bullying” over some dead conflict about the NPCA, just as he fear-mongers about the threat of Regional “overreach” into municipal affairs.

But the issue isn’t Regional overreach. The issue isn’t other Niagara towns. The issue isn’t the Mayor’s political disagreements.

The issue is the Town of Pelham’s persistent, deliberate misdirection. Pelham Town Hall has fundamentally lost the trust of a significant number of Pelham residents. Pelham Town Hall has systematically mislead fellow Niagara municipalities, and Regional Council. The trust of residents needs to be regained. The trust of other towns needs to be rebuilt. Considering the depth of the deception, the process won’t be easy, and will take years. A full and complete investigation by the province is the only place to start.

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