Demands for answers unsatisfied as Pelham Council attempts to address former councillor’s allegations of “unethical and dishonest” actions
BY VOICE STAFF
On Wednesday night, Pelham Town Council held a special meeting to discuss an alleged breach of confidentiality made by former Councillor Marvin Junkin in an interview carried by the Voice last week, in which he explained his reasons for resigning his council seat.
No substantive information was provided during the short meeting, which lasted only about a half hour. However, councillors Richard Rybiak and Peter Papp appeared to confirm the existence of a KPMG summer audit, as alleged by Junkin, though neither provided specifics.
Residents jammed Council Chambers and spilled out into the hallway, prompting the Fire Chief to count heads to make sure that the area’s 80-person limit had not been exceeded. The count fell just short.
Council first heard a presentation from Donald DeLorenzo of Daniel and Partners LLP, the Town’s principal legal firm, in which DeLorenzo outlined the legal framework surrounding confidential information. DeLorenzo said that Junkin’s allegations would have been subject to discipline under Council’s Code of Conduct, but that Junkin had pre-emptively avoided this discipline by resigning.
DeLorenzo compared municipal finances to a jigsaw puzzle, and asserted that “it is much more prudent to wait until we get the entire picture put before the public—once the picture is out there, then we can deal with all the allegations and innuendo, and deal with the true facts.”
Councillor Papp asked DeLorenzo, “What, if any, latitude do we have with respect to confidentiality? Do we have any discretion?” DeLorenzo said there was no latitude in matter of confidentiality.
“If I take liberties,” said Papp, “I do so at my own peril. Is that right?” DeLorenzo said that it was.
Mayor Augustyn asked DeLorenzo to explain why Council is unable to talk about Junkin’s allegations.
“As my mother always said, two wrongs don’t make a right,” said DeLorenzo. “The reason for confidentiality is to protect from litigation.”
DeLorenzo made general references to “litigation” several times throughout his presentation, never citing specifics.
Augustyn moved the agenda forward, prompting Town Treasurer Teresa Quinlin to explain that on November 29, KPMG would be presenting to Council the results of an audit into the Town’s disputed 3.3 acre East Fonthill land purchase. Quinlin said that at the same meeting she would be presenting “other information” regarding the Town’s finances.
The crowd, largely silent for the first portion of the meeting, started muttering as Quinlin answered Augustyn’s questions. When Augustyn turned to CAO Darren Ottaway and asked if he “was aware of any fraud” committed in the Town, the crowd broke out into hisses and yells. Augustyn turned to them. “What?” he said. “That’s what you want to know, isn’t it?”
“There is no evidence of any fraud committed by any current or former employee,” responded Ottaway.
“You’ve buried it well,” someone shouted. Amid the shouts, Augustyn asked Ottaway another question.
“Is there money missing?” he said.
“No,” said Ottaway. “There is no money missing. The Town can account for every nickel.”
“We will be getting complete and accurate information November 29, ” said Augustyn.
“Will both audits be there?” yelled several in the crowd. One woman spoke loudly.
“We don’t report to you, you report to us,” she shouted. “We’re all interested in that audit. Answer the question.”
“Please,” said Augustyn. “You’ve been very respectful so far.”
“Respect us,” the woman shouted back.
Amid the chaos, Councillor Richard Rybiak spoke up.
“Is it not the case that the audit that people are referring to will be released as part of those discussions?” he said, evidently acknowledging the existence of the audit Junkin asserted occurred.
Until now, the Town has declined to confirm that such an audit was undertaken.
The Mayor referred Rybiak’s question to the Treasurer, who, amid the shouts, seemed to refer back to the 3.3 acre land purchase audit.
“She’s talking about the wrong audit,” said Carolyn Botari, a resident in the audience.
“I think you’ve answered those questions,” said Augustyn to Quinlin.
“No, no, no,” shouted many voices in the crowd.
Augustyn continued to speak over them, saying, “We are more committed than ever to respecting our responsibilities,” repeating the text of a press release that he issued last Friday.
As people continued to shout, Councillor Papp held his head in his hands.
“2018 will clean this Council out,” shouted Curt Harley, another resident seated the the gallery. “See you at the election.”
As the crowd’s disquiet grew, Councillor Rybiak, visibly flustered, leaned over and urged the Mayor to adjourn the meeting. Augustyn did so as the shouts continued.
“What’s the debt, Ms. Quinlin, what’s the debt?” called several. Councillors stayed in their seats, looking blankly ahead.
Later, clearly perturbed by the crowd’s reaction, Councillor Papp said that he understood why residents were upset, but said that the information couldn’t be released now because another matter necessitated its “confidentiality.”
Papp was asked by a resident whether the needle of truth pointed more towards Junkin or the Mayor.
“Neither,” said Papp, and again alluded to a connection to another legal matter.
Papp echoed a statement he made during a Council meeting in October, saying, “There are things that happened that shouldn’t have happened,” but made assurances that these things would be remedied.
Papp said that at the September 5 meeting he—and other Councillors—had been completely surprised by the information presented, also appearing to confirm Junkin’s assertion that the results of an audit were presented. Papp says that Council was asked to make a decision immediately after receiving the information. Papp was adamant that action has and will be taken, and urged patience, saying that residents will be informed.
As the room emptied, residents still lingered in the halls and by the doorway, talking among themselves, dissecting the meeting and mentioning the Regional Council meeting scheduled for tomorrow evening in Thorold. They did not seem patient.