Four days after Junkin resignation, Town schedules ad hoc meeting
BY DAVE BURKET
After a work-week of silence—apart from a Facebook post— Pelham Mayor Dave Augustyn responded late Friday to allegations made by former Ward 1 councillor Marv Junkin published in this week’s Voice.
Junkin resigned his Council seat Monday evening, citing his concerns over Town actions that he called “unethical and dishonest.”
In the interview, Junkin says that on September 5, Council was privately presented the results of a forensic audit, commissioned without Council’s knowledge, concluding that the Town’s total debt was nearly $60 million dollars, and turning up $17 million in previously undisclosed debt.
Junkin alleges that instead of making this discovery public, Council chose to cover up the findings until the appearance of the Town’s financial state could be improved.
In his only prior statement to the media this week, Augustyn contacted a PostMedia reporter halfway through the Council meeting on Monday night, shortly after Junkin resigned. The Mayor was quoted as asserting that Junkin had not brought his concerns to Council. This is false.
During Council’s October 2 meeting, when Augustyn moved for Council to commission a KPMG audit into 3.3 acres of land purchased by the Town in East Fonthill, Junkin tabled an amendment that would have expanded the audit’s scope.
“One just has to read the letters to the editor in the local paper or walk the streets of the Town to realize that a disquieting number of residents have lost trust in this Council,” he said.
Junkin’s amendment called for a “full review of the so-called questionable land deal, including full and complete access to the Town’s financial records of the past three years.”
The amendment received no seconder from the rest of Council. As Junkin presented his amendment, the Mayor stared at him and shook his head slowly.
There has been no response to repeated follow-up requests for comment this week of the remaining councillors, CAO Darren Ottaway, Treasurer Teresa Quinlin, and Town solicitor Callum Shedden.
In his emailed statement this evening, which appears below in full, the Mayor announces that Council will hold a special meeting next Wednesday evening, in Town Hall, “to consider the breach of confidentiality of the resigned and former member of Council.”
Augustyn does not say whether the substance of Junkin’s allegations will also be addressed.
On Friday afternoon, the Voice filed a Freedom of Information request with the Town, seeking the KPMG audit results that Junkin says were presented to Council in that closed-door session on September 5. The paper is also seeking the text of a resolution allegedly passed by Council during this meeting, authorizing the Town to seek an $8 million dollar bank loan. Finally the paper requests a complete list of Town bank and investment accounts, and their balances, as of September 1, 2017.
Under FOI provisions, the Town may take up to 30 days to respond.
Reached for comment, Regional Council chair Alan Caslin said earlier Friday, “Like many Regional Councillors and Niagara residents, I am deeply concerned around the recent allegations made by Councillor Junkin. I expect Mayor Augustyn to fully disclose the KPMG audit and financial information referenced by Councillor Junkin in light of the Mayor’s assurances to Regional Council that these allegations are unfounded.”
Despite repeated requests, the Mayor has not provided the Voice the specific statutes that he has implied were violated when Junkin brought his concerns to the paper.
The Voice has been informed by legal counsel that there is no provision under Ontario law that prohibits the disclosure, per se, of information learned during closed-door, or “in camera” council sessions. For Junkin, this was a matter of conscience, saying that staying silent “goes against everything I know….I just don’t think the people of Ward One voted for me to lie to them, to keep things, especially Town finances, hidden from them like this.”
Mayor Augustyn’s emailed statement of Monday evening:
Pelham is vibrant, innovative, and caring. We are a Town that wins awards for its festivals, playgrounds, and plans. We’re bike-friendly, walkable, and seniors-friendly. We have vibrant downtowns and dedicated volunteers. We’re the new home for the Wellspring Niagara Cancer Centre and are now building a new Community Centre on time and on budget.
With characteristics like these, it’s no surprise that more people want to live here and more businesses want to open here. Our Town is flourishing.
Yet, managing growth and all that goes with it can be challenging, and change can be difficult for some people.
Recently, a former Councillor very publicly discussed subjects from a closed session of Council. Some residents are now asking questions about that closed session.
Part of the oath we take when elected into office actually prohibits us from disclosing any information about those “in camera” meetings. The closed session rules and the oath allow Council to discuss land, legal and labour issues. Ultimately these rules are intended to protect residents and taxpayers. As a result, neither I, nor Councillors, nor Staff can legally respond to the allegations or questions. Doing so could risk a lawsuit against the Town, result in criminal charges, and impact our finances.
That’s why I have called a special Council meeting on Wednesday, November 15 to consider the breach of confidentiality of the resigned and former member of Council.
We also recognize it is important for residents and businesses to have accurate information about Pelham’s finances and Staff work hard on that. It has always been slated to be part of the Town’s 2018 Budget deliberations.
In order to ease any concerns, therefore, I have called a special meeting of Council on Wednesday, November 29 to receive KPMG’s external audit, and to hear from the Town’s new Treasurer about the financial plan moving forward.
As Pelham continues to grow and flourish, Councillors and I are more committed than ever to respect our responsibilities, keep working hard to manage growth and the Town’s finances, and work together with residents and businesses to improve our community.
Late Friday night, as this story was to be posted on the Voice website, Mayor Augustyn responded to a request to identify who had authorized the KPMG audit over the summer, and who was made aware of its findings before these findings were presented to Council on September 5.
“On advice of legal counsel, the Town is not able to answer your question[s] as doing so would be contrary to the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Municipal Act, 2001,” wrote the Mayor in an email.
“Thanks very much for your understanding.”
With additional reporting by Samuel Piccolo.