Richmond residents pay for councillors’ legal fees

A lawsuit we initiated was recently mentioned in an article in The Reporter’s October 7 edition about legal fees paid by the Municipality of the County of Richmond. Since this has become public, we are writing to the residents of Richmond County to shed some light on the issue as it affects us all as taxpayers.

To condense a long series of events, here is the short of it. In the spring of 2019, we made repeated attempts with council, via e-mail and during question period, to have perceived conflicts of interest and expenses that violated policies by councillor Alvin Martell looked into.

Finally, warden Brian Marchand and the Chief Administrative Officer agreed to meet with us, but unfortunately, both were firm that they would not pursue the matter. At the time, warden Marchand stated that conflicts of interest claims were a civil matter and we would have to pursue it on our own. Hence, with no support from council, we decided to make an application to the courts for at least the perceived conflicts of interest. In preparation for the application against councillor Martell, we discovered in meeting minutes and videos, perceived conflicts of interest by warden Marchand. We then made an application in June of 2019, to the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia for six perceived occurrences of conflict of interest by councillor Martell and warden Marchand. Our motivation was not financial gain; in fact, there would be a financial cost to us personally regardless of the outcome.

When filing a conflict of interest application, it must be submitted within 60 days of becoming aware of the conflict. The court and two supporting documents indicate this time period was 60 business days, however, after a day in court and several submissions later, the judge ruled that it was 60 calendar days. Due to this technicality around the submission date, the perceived conflicts of interest by warden Marchand and councillor Martell were never heard in court. Warden Marchand and councillor Martell were never cleared of any wrongdoing, which is why the application is intended to be submitted again by another resident.

As a result, we were required to pay approximately $16,000 out-of-pocket to warden Marchand and councillor Martell. They had a legal fee of $9,324.86 which was paid in full by the municipality. This left us wondering how warden Marchand and councillor Martell were able to have their legal fees paid by taxpayers. Such a matter should not have been on the agenda, nor discussed in-camera. The application to the Supreme Court states Ellen Polegato and Gina Stanley vs. Brian Marchand and Alvin Martell, not vs. the municipality. If the municipal insurance would not pay for it, it was not a legitimate expense that could be covered. Warden Marchand and councillor Martell should be returning the money to the taxpayers.

At the May 25 council meeting, a motion was made by councillor Boucher and seconded by councillor Goyetche who both voted to have warden Marchand and councillor Martell’s legal fees paid by the municipality. Councillor MacLean made the only objection.

At the September 14 council meeting, councillor MacLean asked about the $9,324.86 cheque. After a brief silence, warden Marchand asked if someone wanted to answer the question, councillor Martell, Boucher and Goyetche remained silent. CAO, Don Marchand, said he couldn’t recall, but after a brief pause, he apparently remembered. It is the responsibility of the administration (CAO and Chief Financial Officer) to be prepared and be able to respond to such questions, especially, when the review of cheques was on the agenda.

This issue is only one of the questionable actions by some councillors that have plagued the county in the last several years. We need to rid the council table of those who form side alliances, rather than work collectively. We need to rid the council table of those with personal agendas. We need to rid the council table of those who do not support leadership training for women. We need to rid the council table of those who do not practice proper governance. We need to rid the council table of those who have taken away our voice by eliminating question period. We need to rid the council table of those who do not follow a strategic plan. We need to rid the council table of those who do not support senior housing, tourism and economic development. We need to rid the council table of those who do not provide equal funds for food banks. We need to rid the council table of those who do not demonstrate transparency. We need to rid the council table of those who vote on an issue in which they can personally gain. We need to rid the council table of those who have their lawyer fees paid by taxpayers.

We need forward thinking representatives with integrity and a strong commitment to taxpayers. We need leaders with a vision and a plan who can work together to make that plan a reality. Please, vote to help make this happen. Thank you!

Ellen Polegato

The Points

Gina Stanley

Cap La Ronde