ARICHAT: Richmond Municipal Council will contact its auditors to examine and report on an account that was connected to the firing of the Chief Administrative Officer earlier this month.
During a committee-of-the-whole meeting on April 8 in Arichat, former Warden Jason MacLean asked for clarification on the 2018-2019 sundry budget account.
“There’s a lot of questions out there as to what a sundry account actually is, what’s it for…” MacLean said.
Interim CAO Don Marchand explained that the sundry account contains recurring monthly charges that includes smaller items (water, sugar, tea, and coffee), as well as items that have no other place within the operating budget, including one-time and other monthly charges.
District 1 councillor James Goyetche introduced a motion, which was approved, to have municipal auditors Grant Thornton review the sundry account and appear before council to determine if there was any “inappropriate, illegal or wrongful activity in that account.”
“… We have an auditing firm that we engage that are very well respected, and based on this, I think we can settle this whole thing about sundry accounts…” Goyetche told council.
Deputy Warden Brian Marchand noted that the auditors are scheduled to visit Richmond County by June but Goyetche responded that he wants this dealt with immediately, to applause from most of those in the public gallery.
“Every council meeting that I’ve been attending so far, for the past couple of months, relates to sundry accounts,” he said. “So to satisfy my curiosity and to find out exactly what’s going on with this sundry account, that’s why I made this motion.”
After the vote was taken on Goyetche’s motion, MacLean then tabled information about a petition to the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) from a group requesting a plebiscite on whether the former CAO’s contract should have been terminated. The group is also lobbying for a special municipal election this fall in Richmond County.
“At some point in time, we need to start talking about moving forward, and I’m all about moving forward, but until clean up some of these questions people have, I just don’t that happening for a little while,” MacLean told council. “There’s a lot of confusion, there’s a lot of talk, and there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered.”
District 2 Councillor Alvin Martell added that the municipality does need to draft a by-law laying out the process for releasing budget information.
“I think at some point, we’re going to need to sit down and put together a by-law on information and cheques, and different stuff, so that we have a process to follow,” Martell told council. “It seems to be creating a lot of confusion these days.”
During the same meeting, MacLean announced his resignation. He will continue as the District 5 representative. As a councillor, MacLean explained he is in a better position to freely debate issues.
In a letter to council explaining his decision, MacLean took aim at the three councillors – Marchand, Martell and District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher – who voted to terminate Kent MacIntyre’s contract as CAO. He claimed the three have “an obsession to exert power, disregarding process and respectfulness.”
The former warden charged he has “been repeatedly blindsided by rogue motions and kept in the dark on matters of the utmost importance.”
This comes as a group of residents opposed to MacIntyre’s termination sent letters to the department asking that Richmond Municipal Council be dissolved, and an interim council appointed.
On April 5, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon asked Minister of Municipal Affairs Chuck Porter if he is concerned with the situation in Richmond County and whether he has directed staff to assist. Paon said she has received a “number of inquiries” from constituents.
Porter responded that the department will help when and if called upon.
During a special meeting on April 1, councillors voted 3-2 to terminate MacIntyre’s contract.
Boucher introduced the motion to immediately remove MacIntyre from his position, following a two-hour in-camera session to discuss a personnel matter.
Marchand asked that MacIntyre turn-over any municipal items (like keys), or equipment (including phones and laptops) before he left the municipal building at the conclusion of the meeting. Boucher then introduced another motion, seconded by Marchand and supported by Martell, which was also approved, that requested “the CAO be escorted to his office to pick up his personal items.”
MacLean and Goyetche voted against both motions.
Before the votes were held, council reviewed information on the sundry account. Marchand told council the account was supposed to be $27,000 but was over-budget and increased to $69,850.
In responding to public questions during a special meeting on April 4, Marchand explained that it is in default and there is no money in the account. In response more questions, Marchand said they identified a non-budgeted expenditure of $10,925 for “a project that never happened.”
The deputy warden said he requested information about the sundry account after the March 11 committee-of-the-whole meeting when the former CAO told representatives of Richmond County tourism groups there was money available for them in the account.
Marchand said his continued requests for information on the sundry account went unanswered. Then during the regular monthly meeting of council on March 25, Martell requested the information.
But when Marchand requested that council direct the CAO to instruct the Chief Financial Officer to print and distribute computer-generated copies of the sundry budget account to all councillors during the March 25 meeting, MacLean ruled that motion out of order.
The deputy warden told council that after “eight months” of having requests for invoices ignored by the CAO, he was not willing to wait any longer.
During that same meeting, MacIntyre explained that he received an e-mail after the March 11 meeting and responded at the time that the sundry account information would be provided during discussions of the administrative budget. He noted that the sundry account does not impact current budget deliberations.
MacIntyre told council he consulted with the DMA and was told the audit committee is the proper place to discuss that budget item.
During an emergency meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on April 4, it was announced that Department of Finance revenue manager Don Marchand will be interim CAO. Marchand has been an employee of the municipality for 24 years.
After getting clarification from the deputy warden that Don Marchand had been approached to accept the position, MacLean questioned why he was left out of that conversation.
MacLean also wanted to know how the same councillors who voted to end MacIntyre’s contract, and did not show up to the audit committee meeting on April 3, were able to schedule the April 4 special meeting only hours before it was supposed to start.
Martell then introduced a motion at the same meeting, which was seconded by Boucher, that council authorize the Chief Financial Officer to pay-out the prorated vacation pay amount, issue a Record of Employment and immediately cancel long-term disability coverage for the former CAO.
Boucher then introduced a motion, which was seconded by Martell, asking the municipal solicitor prepare a termination letter for the former CAO. The correspondence would include a choice between a lump sum payment, or a salary continuation based on the terms of MacIntyre’s contract. Under that contract, the municipality can terminate employment, without cause, by providing, in lieu of notice, three months of salary for each year of employment, plus one month for each year after the first. MacIntyre was on the job for approximately 15 months.
Although both motions passed by 3-2 votes, MacLean and Goyetche voted against the motions because they do not support MacIntyre’s termination.
MacLean said the information councillors wanted was going to be discussed during the April 3 audit committee meeting. Because he was denied an opportunity to explain the sundry account, the warden argued that the former CAO was terminated “with cause.”
The deputy warden responded that his concerns were about the “roadblocks” the former CAO was putting up.