Call for forensic audit provokes heated debate

Council voices its displeasure with Brian Baty’s proposal

BY NATE SMELLE
The VOICE

Regional Councillor Brian Baty faced a barrage of questions from members of Pelham Council at their meeting held on Monday, July 24 pertaining to his call for a forensic audit of Pelham’s finances. Baty’s comments seemed to be taken as a personal insult by some members of Council. Councillor Richard Rybiak headed up the grilling, asking Baty why he felt a forensic audit would be necessary, and what he felt was missing from the report the Town presented in response to a Regional Councillor’s motion in March that called into question Pelham’s ability to service its debt.

“My concern is one of public trust,” Baty responded.

“In terms of the answers that have been given, there’s a lack of confidence which is very prevalent. There is a feeling that the explanations that have been given are not factual or complete. There is no malice intended in my suggestion. My point is, let’s clear the air. The best way I feel which you can do that is with a third-party independent audit.”

Rybiak requested that Baty retract his call for forensic audit and instead ask for a third-party external audit. The reason for this, he said, is that a forensic audit carries the implication that members of Council are individually crooked, an implication Rybiak said he “resents to the bone.”

Baty asserted that he is embracing the concept of an external audit being done in Pelham in the same way he is with the Niagara Peninsula Conservation Authority (NPCA).

“I do not have experience with land transactions, legal matters, property matters, property sales, etc.,” Baty said. “That’s not my jurisdiction. It’s not my opinion that there is something wrong or that there something going on — it’s the public at large and I’m being inundated by emails. My personal feeling is that it shouldn’t be the Region’s business. It should be the Town’s business, but I think the town itself would be well served if it initiated the process of doing that.”

Councillor Accursi told Baty he understands his parallel to the NPCA, however Accursi highlighted how the Town immediately came out with a 335-page report, which he asserted answered all of the allegations made in March. He also noted that the Town engaged the public during its “Evening with the Experts” in April. Accursi said he was grateful to see Baty assert that the Region should not be involved in Pelham’s business.

“The truest thing that was said in your quote, in my opinion, was that it was not the place of the Region to resolve this matter, and yet the Region continues to interfere with our business,” he said.

Councillor Papp, who chaired the meeting while Mayor Augustyn was on vacation, said that he agreed that if there is a problem or even the impression of a problem it should be resolved publicly, openly and truthfully. He said that although the allegations are untrue, comments such as Baty’s could do serious harm to the local economy.

“My concern is that this is also affecting people who are interested in investing here, business-wise, because what they have is the conception or the understanding somehow that things aren’t right,” said Papp.

After the meeting Baty said that his call for an independent, third- party forensic audit was to provide a mechanism to clear the air, and either verify or refute the allegations and innuendos that surround the issue of land purchases and financing mechanisms in East Fonthill, and to make records public that are not currently available. Baty said he was surprised at the number of councillors who claim that there are “only a small number” of concerned residents, since he has received several emails, calls, and comments supporting such an independent audit.

“The whole discussion at Council reminds me of the glass half empty or full debate. My take on the issue is that a third-party audit would bring clarity to the issues at hand and do so in a timely manner for all concerned, and citizens and Council can move on with other civic issues. A forensic audit does not necessarily find items that are irregular. It equally can find no irregularities. While councillors expressed concern for the impact of these issues on staff, I, on the other hand, express concern for the impact of these issues on citizens—seniors on fixed incomes and average homeowners feeling that actions now may have a negative impact on their taxes over time.”

Baty said he regrets that in the absence of immediate action, these issues will drag into and past the next election cycle.

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