Decision made not on merit but on jurisdiction
BY VOICE STAFF
Ontario Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing Bill Mauro sent a letter to the Town of Pelham late last month, advising that the province would not conduct a municipal audit of Pelham’s finances.
An audit request was submitted under a little-known clause of the Municipal Affairs Act, which permits a provincial investigation of a municipality if at least 50 residents call for one. A petition in Pelham asking for a provincial audit gathered some 200 signatures, and was supported by a vote at Regional Council.
The residents’ petition and some 400 pages of evidence were submitted to the Ministry in February.
The letter from Mauro, included on Town Council’s agenda last week, made it clear that the reason for not auditing the Town was based on jurisdiction, not whether there were grounds for such an investigation.
“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,” wrote Mauro. “As such, the Ministry will not be proceeding with a provincial municipal audit.”
Mauro encouraged both the Town and the Region to work together to “address these issues locally.”
Mauro’s letter made reference to a letter sent to him by Mayor Dave Augustyn, with Mauro thanking Augustyn for “bringing your concerns to my attention.”
Augustyn’s letter was not included on the Council agenda and Town Public Relations and Marketing Specialist Marc MacDonald did not respond when the Voice asked for a copy.
The Mayor and Councillors alike hailed the minister’s letter as a victory for the Town.
“I see this as closing a chapter of a story that really was never there,” said Augustyn. “It’s sad that so much energy and time was spent proving something that was never there to begin with. I think the community will recognize this as that end to that chapter. The public didn’t deserve this. I’m very pleased that we’re receiving this now. We have been cleared by the ministry as well.”
Augustyn’s assertion that the ministry had “cleared” Pelham irked some residents.
“They weren’t cleared of anything,” said Bernie Law, who spoke to the Region’s audit committee and urged the Region to support the petition. “With the election here, the ministry just washed their hands of it.”
The Ministry of Municipal Affairs, which first said that it would provide comment to the Voice, later declined.
“During the writ period it is not appropriate for the ministry to be providing comment on this matter. As stated in the letter, municipalities are responsible and accountable governments with the authority to make decisions on matters within their jurisdictions,” wrote Praveen Senthinathan, a ministry spokesperson.
Councillor Gary Accursi blamed Region Council, saying that “This is what happens when they get involved in things they don’t understand, or the business cases that local governments have considered in great depth.”
“It is now up to the citizens of Pelham to decide if the Town Council is ‘in the clear’,” said Audit Committee Chair Tony Quirk.