The June 2 Council meeting of Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan Township (BLR) rewarded residential ratepayers with a Zero Percent Municipal Tax Increase in the 2021 budget. The budget included an amount of $150,000 for legal costs (up from $30,000 last year). At the May 19 budget meeting, Acting Clerk-Treasurer Valerie Jahn had warned members of Council that if they wanted a Zero Percent Municipal Tax Increase, they couldn’t cut that figure for legal costs “because we’ll be lucky if that covers it.” Nearly half of those legal costs appeared on the Payments section of the June 2 agenda. Were it not for Councillor Trevor Lidtkie’s insistence, this disclosure of more than $73,000 in recent payments for “legal costs” (Integrity Commissioner, investigations, lawyers) would not have been made public.
Lidtkie began with the 2020 Integrity Commissioner report to BLR saying, “I think we better take a solid look at the numbers that’s going out here … This has gone beyond stupid.” Referring to a one-page annual summary for which Integrity Commissioner Expertise for Municipalities (E4m) charged BLR $2,857.59 Lidtkie asked, “Seriously? … That’s the report you get for the kind of money we’re paying?”
During consideration of the payments, Lidtkie itemized the cost of each of the three suppliers whose charges totaled $73,578.81: E4m – the Township’s Integrity Commissioner; Investigative Solutions Network – a subcontractor to E4m; and Wishart Law – BLR’s municipal lawyers. When Cllr Lidtkie pressed Mayor Sheldon Keller about the reason for the high costs, Mayor Keller replied that “those costs I believe are associated with the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act [MCIA] complaint that was brought against Councillor Budarick.” Lidtkie asked, “The whole cost? … I want to see some bills.” The E4m invoices, however, included references to other councillors that were investigated, including Councillor Rutledge who was the subject of a report presented to Council.
Lidtkie reminded Mayor Keller that he had previously requested a breakdown of bills from E4m. “I raised the issue of asking to itemize the bill and they said that was going to cost us more money; does that not sound a little suspicious to you?” Jahn explained that the bills for payment this month were itemized and could be released if Council passed a Resolution to that effect. Lidtkie repeated, “…. let’s see what those bills are.” During further discussion, Mayor Keller agreed he wasn’t happy with the costs, but “when Council passes the Resolution to reveal the nature of the billing and those involved, I think the taxpayer has the right to see those amounts. An MCIA application to the Courts I’m sure is a very large part of that sum…. That’s why we believe training for Council is so important to avoid these problems.” Lidtkie responded by saying, “We haven’t set aside any money for training in the budget, I don’t believe.” But the Mayor replied, “I believe we had training when we started council.”
Mayor Keller then announced a Resolution “that the invoices for investigations regarding the IC’s ongoing investigations to be released to Council and ratepayers.” It was carried. Members of Council then voted to pay all the invoices (with Lidtkie refusing to vote in favour of those particular charges he had questioned).
A closer look at the invoices
The Current’s examination based on the limited information provided in invoices from the three businesses reveals the following:
Investigative Solutions Network (office in Sault Ste. Marie) – Six invoices dated Jan.31, 2021 to Mar.31, 2021 – TOTAL $15,988.26
The invoices do not appear to be addressed to anyone and the services charged for include 131.25 hours broken down as follows:
- Admin Support 30.5 hrs.
- Consulting 0.5 hr.
- Investigation 61 hrs.
- Interviews 16.75 hrs.
- Mileage 626 miles
- Report 12.5 hrs.
- Transcribing 4 hrs.
- Travel 6 hrs.
Wishart Law (based in Sault Ste. Marie) – Eleven invoices dated Nov.2 2020 to Apr.30 2021 – TOTAL $40,698.63
The Apr.30 invoice for $12,140.72 is the only invoice that describes the services rendered. It is labeled “re: Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan – MCIA/Court Application re Councillor Budarick.”
The Wishart Law invoices are all addressed to E4m. Readers may recall that when E4m touted for business from municipalities across the province, one of its selling points was its “unique affiliation with one of our business partners, Wishart Municipal Law Group.” Prior to a recent revamp of its website, E4mSolutions actually displayed the logo of the Wishart Municipal Group on its website as well as on other promotional materials.
E4m (based in Sudbury) – Five invoices dated Nov.10 2020 to May 2 2021 – TOTAL $16,891.92
All the E4m invoices are addressed to BLR Township. Four of them include charges for “legal review” or “Wishart inv” for services adding up to at least $5,263.19, the amounts for which do not appear to match any of the separate Wishart invoices above.
Additional services performed by E4m (presumably by Peggy Young-Lovelace, the Integrity Commissioner herself) include:
- 10.5 hrs. reviewing a training video presented by E4m and Wishart Law to which BLR sent former Clerk Michelle Mantifel and Councillor Andrea Budarick
- 23.52 hrs. reviewing transcripts, minutes, report preparation and attendance at BLR Council
- 2.1 hrs. meeting with ISN and Wishart to review matters
- 4.5 hrs. preparing Court documents re Budarick MCIA
- 31.65 hrs. in 2020 re Rutledge MCIA report
- $523.20 for the annual IC report to the Township, plus an additional $2,007.39 for “Legal Review,” reviewer not identified.
Taxpayer requests independent investigation
Readers may recall that BLR resident Michael McCloskey appeared before Council in April asking them to replace the Integrity Commissioner because of what he perceived to be major failures on her part. McCloskey later wrote to Council seeking their decision and at the May 5 Council meeting, Mayor Keller said, “Item 10.2 is an issue that Michael McCloskey brought to the last regular council meeting requesting council on the decision of his request to terminate E4m as our IC. So what I have before me is a Resolution that says: ‘That the Townships of Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan retain the services of E4M as their Integrity Commissioners. To change at this time would cause a duplication in the investigative work that has already been completed and ongoing.’” Editor’s note: Such considerations did not stop Madawaska Valley Council from firing their first Integrity Commissioner, Jack Rosien, when he had three ongoing investigations.
In response to The Current’s request for comment, McCloskey said, “These invoices show that the waste and mismanagement on this with BLR taxpayer money is even worse than we thought, and for reasons known only to Council we are sticking with a company that seems intent on milking us until we are completely dry. It doesn’t make sense!” McCloskey has again written to Jahn about the issues revealed by the invoices requesting an independent investigation.