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  • Eric Johnston

Conflict at Municipal Council

The situation at the Municipal Council of Wentworth-Nord is extremely difficult and the current environment makes it very hard to focus on the best interests of the citizens of the Municipality. A huge amount of energy is being wasted due to a conflict between the Mayor and most of the Council.

Roadwork projects have dominated the attention of the Municipal Council and they have been a main source of the discord between the Mayor and Council.

As a result of more reflections, discussions and polling of residents there has been a major shift of opinion among the Municipal Council. A clear majority now agree that additional planning and increased due diligence are required to find the proper mix of paved versus gravel roads. There is a lack of support for the Mayor’s desire to pave all the roads in the Municipality as rural realities cannot be compared to urban situations.

Results of the opinion survey distributed June 28, 2020 also demonstrates that residents clearly agree with the Municipal Council position. An opinion poll was sent to a mailing list of almost 600 citizens and the results for those who participated are 215 taxpayers agreeing with a mixed-use approach versus 15 against. There was a very strong rate of participation, thank you for taking the time to share your opinion.

The Mayor dismisses the opinion poll as unscientific and disagrees vehemently with the position of Council with respect to the roadwork strategy.

All taxpayers received by mail a communication with the Mayor’s perspective which was also published on the Municipal website. Click here to see a copy.

There are multiple points raised by the Mayor with which I do not agree. For example, in the communication from the Mayor:

Mayor Francois Ghali states:

The vast majority of citizens welcomed our approach.

Councillor Eric Johnston comment:

Given the public consultation process did not follow the Municipal policy guidelines, there is no proof to backup this statement. The opinion poll also shows major disagreement with the Mayor’s statement.

Mayor Francois Ghali states:

Carrying out the program will have very little impact on the tax bill.

Councillor Eric Johnston comments:

This is a fiscal impossibility; especially if all roads are to be paved.

There was about a $175,000 increase for finance costs in the 2020 budget, representing 4% of the property tax revenues.

A simple rule of thumb, every $1 million we borrow costs us $80,000 a year in the budget.

Mayor Francois Ghali states:

We have also improved the annual maintenance program… almost 30% more

Councillor Eric Johnston comments:

False; based on the 2020 annual budget presentation it decreased slightly

(2019 = $1,251,163 vs 2020 = $1,246,624)

The 2020 budget amount includes many non-road related expenses since it is the entire Public Works budget.

As our Municipality takes on more and more debt to do necessary infrastructure work, we must ensure we deliver the best long-term value for the residents of Wentworth-Nord. Well planned preventive maintenance is key to making sure that the Municipal road assets deliver the longest possible lifetime use.

Right now, Council is not presented with an annual preventive maintenance budget; we think it is important to clearly identify what money goes into road maintenance.

Since the Mayor can be very combative and aggressive when defending his agenda, the working environment at Council has slowly but surely deteriorated since the latter part of 2019 and throughout 2020. The Mayor is supposed to maintain order and decorum at meetings, in my opinion this is not the case at all. I find myself facing a very toxic working environment for the first time in my entire career.

Unfortunately, the poor working environment has claimed one of our Council colleagues. On Friday July 31st, we were advised that Jean-Luc Groulx, the Councillor for district #1 in St. Michel, had resigned. I can fully sympathize with Mr. Groulx’s frustration and am saddened to lose his extensive Municipal experience and calm and reasoned counsel.

All these various factors have resulted in the Mayor losing the confidence and respect of a majority of Council.

If you start watching the recording of the August 21st regular Council meeting, you will see how negative the environment has become. The Mayor’s Facebook postings also show the kind of adversarial relationship we are unfortunately involved in.

Despite the challenges, some key roadwork milestones were achieved over the past months:

  1. At the regular June 19 Council meeting, it was unanimously agreed that a paving policy should be prepared.

  2. Research undertaken independently by myself and Councillor André Cliche concerning roadwork best practices in Quebec, Ontario and the USA. yielded similar results showing that the best return for rural taxpayers is a mix of gravel and paved roads

  3. A final decision on the public tenders for paving and gravel to be paid under the $2.5 million dollar loan regulation # 2019-563 was delayed when the items on the July 17th meeting agenda were tabled (delayed).

  4. An initial paving policy was approved at an extraordinary meeting held on July 31st.

    1. On August 18, the Mayor used his power of veto so the policy had to be brought once again for approval and was passed, without the option of any further veto, at the meeting of Aug. 21, 2020.

  5. At the July 31st meeting, other resolutions were presented so that the Council could receive legal advice on the issues that we are facing concerning the roadwork projects.

  6. An extraordinary meeting planned for Aug. 13, 2020 had to be cancelled as proper procedures to hold the meeting could not be followed.

    1. We learned that Council had not been following proper procedures for years

  7. At the August 21, 2020 regular Council meeting, the gravel and asphalt public bids were accepted.

    1. I voted against the project for the rue du Domaine as in my opinion it is not a fair use of general tax funds and not justifiable given the usage levels.

  8. Council authorized a public bid process for the crushed stone required to complete the roadbed on Chemin Lac Notre-Dame Sud

Important Note:

Since legally a Municipal Council can only speak through resolutions passed at public meetings, and since there is a conflict with the Mayor on important issues, the only way the Council can move forward between regular meetings of Council is by calling an extraordinary meeting. The Code Municipal (article 152) permits these extraordinary meetings at any time there are issues which members of Council want to examine or if timely resolutions are required.

The virtual meetings of Council are now recorded and available on YouTube:

  1. The June regular meeting is available here

  2. The July regular meeting is available here

  3. The July 31st extraordinary meeting is available here

  4. The August regular meeting is available here

    1. This was the first meeting where residents could watch live

What is next?

The Municipal Council will focus on the important priorities and we hope to develop a working agreement with the Mayor so that business can move forward in a more harmonious environment, allowing a diversity of opinions to be expressed, and reasoned democratic decisions taken.

At the Aug 21st meeting of Council, the Mayor suggested asking the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAMH) to provide mediation services. Mediation had already been reviewed by Council however it was decided to put this option on hold until it is clear that all parties in the process would be willing participants.

If the Mayor would simply respect his responsibility to maintain decorum during meetings, no mediation would be necessary.

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