Maintains audit was an “audit” not a “report”
BY DAVE BURKET
He’s a little wobbly on a new knee, but former Ward 1 Councilor Marv Junkin is sticking by his story. It’s an account he also planned to tell the Niagara Regional Police on Monday as the Voice went to press, and the Ombudsman of Ontario, in an interview scheduled for this Friday.
On November 5, Junkin resigned his seat to protest the way Council reacted to news presented during a closed-door meeting two months earlier, in early September. At the meeting, Junkin says that the results of a financial audit delivered by KPMG revealed Pelham’s debt to be $17 million dollars more than previously disclosed.
Rather than make these findings public, Junkin asserts that Council decided to obtain an immediate $8 million dollar bank loan, then work to improve the appearance of the Town’s finances, including by delaying the release of it 2017 financial statements until late spring 2018.
After falsely stating that Junkin had not taken his concerns to Council before resigning, Mayor David Augustyn has adjusted course in recent days, asserting that the Town cannot comment on Junkin’s allegations because they relate to a “privileged report” concerning an “indentifiable person.”
Bunk, says Junkin.
The 63-year-old retired dairy farmer spent much of last week in the hospital, where his right knee was replaced. He returned home Friday and the Voice caught up with him on Saturday. With family members coming and going, and a former constituent visiting, Junkin sat in his kitchen, rehabilitation walker at the ready, a no-nonsense adhesive strip running several inches above and below his right kneecap.
“How does an audit become a ‘report,’” he asked, shaking his head. “Three people talked—the Mayor, the Treasurer, and the KPMG auditor,” said Junkin. “No lawyers. There was never a single word said about the audit being connected to anyone—current employee, former employee, nobody.”
Junkin stood by the account he gave in a Voice interview published the week he resigned. What prompted the audit, he said, had nothing to do with lawyers or lawsuits, but rather a puzzling discovery made by incoming Treasurer Teresa Quinlin shortly after she was hired.
“She saw that the bank statements were different to the Town’s statements,” reiterated Junkin on Saturday. “That’s it. No lawyers, no lawsuits.”
Junkin said that the KPMG auditor’s presentation, with Council’s questions, lasted about a half hour. While one of the Town’s attorneys was present, he did not speak.
Junkin remembered another of Quinlin’s assurances to Council, that while the news was bad, the new community centre arena project would still go forward, with some changes.
“She said that because of what was found, the landscaping would have to be delayed by two or three years.” Junkin shook his head.
In declining to address the substance of Junkin’s allegations, the Town has alluded to ongoing legal issues as a rationale for staying silent. However, as of last Friday, the Voice was unable to find any claims filed against the Town, at either the Welland or the St. Catharines courthouses, involving current or former Town employees.
Following former Treasurer Cari Pupo’s termination in May, some Councillors were heard to assure residents that her departure was entirely unrelated to financial matters. (The Voice has been unable to reach Pupo for comment, despite multiple attempts.)
On Saturday, Junkin acknowledged that the next item on the agenda during the September 5 meeting related to negotiations over a non-disclosure agreement sought for an ex-employee. The employee, dismissed earlier in the year, had been holding out for a larger severance amount. Council, he says, elected to continue negotiating with the ex-employee “in good faith.”
The Town’s recent claims that the audit is a “report,” relating to legal matters subject to solicitor-client privilege, is a smokescreen intended to prevent the public from learning the truth, said Junkin.
What’s more, after Council was told that Town finances were not as they appeared, it had a duty to inform creditors, including Infrastructure Ontario, said Junkin, of these changed circumstances. That Council or Town staff apparently did not do so may constitute fraud, and was what prompted Junkin to schedule his meeting with Niagara Regional Police on Monday.
Junkin also said he planned to attend Wednesday’s special Council meeting at E.L. Crossley, but didn’t expect to hear anything new.
The Town has not responded to Freedom of Information requests filed by the Voice for the KPMG audit results and other documents pertaining to Council’s September 5 meeting.
When asked by the Voice whether she had reason to question the truthfulness of the Town’s financial documents when she arrived on the job, Treasurer Teresa Quinlin responded with a single, “No.” When asked who authorized the summer audit, Quinlin said, “I am not able to discuss content on matters which occurred in a closed session meeting.”
“I’m old enough to remember Watergate,” said Junkin. “I remember Nixon going on television and saying, ‘There will be no whitewash at the White House.’ Well, a few months later Nixon was on that helicopter.”