Chamber of Commerce wades in to Richmond County controversy

PORT HAWKESBURY: In the midst of a controversy over the firing of Richmond County’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and the resignation of the warden, the Strait Area Chamber of Commerce has weighed in.

A letter dated April 16 – and addressed to Richmond Deputy Warden Brian Marchand and councillors Jason MacLean, James Goyetche, Gilbert Boucher, and Alvin Martell – signed by chamber executive director Amanda Mombourquette and co-signed by 24 businesses either serving or based in Richmond County, expresses “deep concern about the recent actions of municipal council.”

“In the last month, decisions have been made to curtail tourism supports, and motions have been passed to withdraw from critical economic development and land use planning services, culminating in the sudden termination of the CAO, Kent MacIntyre,” the letter reads.

On March 25, council voted to give one-year notices to both the Cape Breton Regional Enterprise Network (CBREN) and the Eastern District Planning Commission (EDPC).

While Jason MacLean and Goyetche voted against both motions, they passed with support from Boucher, Martell and Marchand, who introduced the motion to leave the EDPC, “in light of our loss of revenue due to some assessment loss and our increased costs this year.”

Calling the release of the municipality’s strategic plan a “step in the right direction,” the letter says, “there appears to be a culture of dysfunction and mistrust among the elected officials on council,” based on the actions of council over the past few weeks. Pointing out that the population of Richmond County has dropped by 20 per cent since 1996, the letter said these actions run counter to the need for growth outlined in the strategic plan.

“With this declining population, Richmond County cannot afford to shut down critical land use and economic development services – we need to invest and seek efficiency though shared services…”

The letter goes on to charge that “Richmond County’s reputation continues to decline in the face of the instability of its municipal government.”

“The clear message is that businesses cannot expect certainty from its municipal unit, resulting in a climate that is not business-friendly for both existing and new enterprises.”

On April 1, council voted 3-2 to terminate MacIntyre’s contract following the release of information on a sundry budget account that was more than $42,000 over-budget.

Noting that commercial and residential taxpayers were put at risk because the decision to terminate MacIntyre’s contract could leave the municipality open to legal liability, the letter said “the manner in which this matter was handled served to degrade the position of CAO, and cast into doubt the ability of the municipality to function professionally and in good faith.”

Writing that the letter is from the perspective of business owners concerned about the future of Richmond County, the chamber contends that council’s actions will set back inter-municipal agreements and outreach to First Nations communities.

“… It’s important to note that the ongoing maintenance/growth of social services and infrastructure in our community depends on a stable and expanding tax based, and the ability to build strong partnerships… this has a direct impact on the quality of life in Richmond County, our ability to attract talent and new businesses, and our ability to support our most vulnerable residents.”

At the conclusion of the letter, the chamber urges council to “mitigate the risk of any future liability stemming from the handling of the CAO’s termination” and reverse its decision to send notice of withdrawal from the EDPC and CBREN. Along with engaging the Department of Municipal Affairs to assist with conflict resolution and conflict of interest strategies, the chamber also urges council to hold off on making “major decisions without public consultation impacting regional development until the next election.”