ARICHAT: Richmond County is going back to the drawing board in its efforts to post the expenses of councillors and staff on-line, while awaiting legal advice on the future direction of a council committee established to implement additional financial reforms.
A policy to enable all expenses of Richmond Municipal Council and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Warren Olsen to be posted on the municipal Web site came up for a vote at last week’s regular monthly council meeting in Arichat. However, the motion introducing the policy was defeated shortly after Louisdale-area councillor Brian Marchand pointed out a clause in the policy that suggested expense postings could be limited by Nova Scotia’s Municipal Government Act.
“Item #4 reads, ‘Posting of expenses shall be subject to and consistent with Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy provisions of the Municipal Government Act,” Marchand told the council meeting.
“My thought was that our intention was that all expenses would be posted, and I’m worried that this could be used to minimize posting some expenses. So I cannot see where any expenses, whether they would be used for travel, food, or hotels, should not be posted.”
After Marchand told the council meeting that he had not received examples of expense postings that could be limited by the Municipal Government Act, councillors Gail Johnson, Gilbert Boucher and Shirley McNamara echoed Marchand’s declaration that he would not back the motion, which ultimately failed to receive any council support.
Later in the evening, during the meeting’s public-gallery portion, Lennox Passage resident Ellen Polegato asked for an update on the Financial Reform Committee established this past winter to examine the issues surrounding expenses incurred by councillors and staff.
The committee’s chair, West Arichat-area councillor Alvin Martell, told Polegato that the county’s municipal solicitors had advised against proceeding with this committee’s activities until the municipality has received the final editions of two investigations of the county’s expense claims – specifically, a review conducted by Nova Scotia’s Office of the Ombudsman and a forensic audit carried out by municipal auditors Grant Thornton with assistance from the legal firm Boyne Clarke.
“There was some concern that we would make some decisions that would not be suitable for what we found in those reports,” Martell told Polegato.
“We don’t have a problem informing the public, but when we’re told by legal not to proceed, that’s what we do and we’re bound by our legal advice. It’s not that we don’t want to talk to you – I was going to bring that issue to the June session, but we were advised not to.”
He added that municipal solicitors also advised the municipality to delay acting on recommendations from a management letter issued by Grant Thornton nearly a year ago, until the completion of the Ombudsman’s Office report. The draft version of that document is now in the hands of municipal councillors and the CAO, who have until October 28 to request clarifications to the report.
Warden Victor David told the meeting that the forensic audit, covering expenses incurred by councillors and the CAO between April 1, 2011 and April 1, 2016, is expected to be complete this week.