BY JIM PITT
Special to THE VOICE
There is an old adage that says don’t bite the hand that feeds you. More about that later.
A press release dated December 19, 2017 stated unequivocally that the Town is through with answering any more questions about finances and land deals — it’s a bold tactic in this, an election year.
This came after the last council meeting, held the day before, on December 18. During the meeting, a motion presented by Councillor Accursi, seconded by Councillors King and Rybiak, laid bare the inner workings of this town.
Accursi’s motion called on the Town to rescind its promise to hold a public meeting, at which residents could ask questions of their elected officials, Town staff, and various experts, about the state of Town finances as finally revealed by KPMG’s November report to a special meeting of Council, held at E. L. Crossley high school.
When discussing this motion to deny residents any further opportunity to ask questions, Councillor Rybiak made reference to the KPMG report that the Town had recently bought.
He said, “I am willing to accept the report. I have not seen it yet. None of us has seen it. It was released to staff. I was unaware that it was released until a moment ago.”
Councillor Rybiak thought it might be nice to allow everyone interested to read the report and then questions of a factual nature could be entertained. But then he went on to state, “My view is that the report that has been released answered all those questions— again I haven’t read the report.”
Since the Town Council meeting of March 2016, held at Old Town Hall before a preordained vote to approve building the new arena, I have watched the Town’s elected representatives in action when dealing with the taxpayers.
At that particular meeting, 20 presentations were politely listened to. Ten favoured the proposed arenas, and ten were against. The Mayor and Council did not ask the presenters any questions. There were no questions allowed from the considerable audience and, with the brisk banging of a Mayoral gavel, Council passed the motion.
That was that.
In March 2017 the Town was challenged by a local developer regarding the Town’s finances and land deals. Eventually this developer offered to pay $50,000 towards an independent, third party audit of some questionable transactions concerning the Town’s East Fonthill development adventure.
The Town replied with a 300-page-plus “data dump.” The Town also held an “Evening with the Experts.” This meeting was hosted by a Town-appointed moderator and had a panel made up of Town employees, the Town lawyer and Town auditors. The Mayor and Council sat in the audience and, at no time, participated. These measures were not successful in calming the masses.
In an effort to assure the locals and the opposition on Regional Council, the Town hired KPMG to do an audit in lieu of the third party audit offered earlier. This audit was presented to the townsfolk at E. L. Crossley.. The auditors spoke at length while the Mayor and Council looked on approvingly.
Again, no questions were allowed and at no time did the Mayor or Councillors officially respond.
A question-and-answer session was to be held at a later date. Now, courtesy of Councillor Accursi and the rest of Councl, this meeting has been deemed unnecessary and has been cancelled.
All three of these public meetings have had one fact in common. At no time, in any of these meetings, did the Mayor or any Councillors engage the townsfolk, entertain any questions, offer words of assurance or in any way interact with anyone.
They remained silent and aloof, secure in the workings of officialdom and confident in their actions. They let the experts do the talking for them. Who are these experts?
Each and every expert engaged by the Mayor and Council to do their talking for them is a contracted consultant or salaried administrator. They are all paid with our taxes and with the money of which the Town likes to borrow so much.
Councillor Accursi stated, “Pelham has taken unprecedented steps for a municipality in our effort to be open and transparent.”
Well, Councillor Accursi, I’ll give the Town an A for effort. The Town has gone to extravagant lengths to get the results it paid for. But the Town gets an F for transparency. Transparency is more than a catchphrase. True transparency requires outside audits and politicians answering for themselves.
What we got instead is experts intent on not biting the hand that feeds them, and a Mayor and Council who regularly bite the hands that feed them.