Nova Scotia

Richmond County councillors may have broken law, says prof

A political science professor at Cape Breton University says some Richmond County councillors may have violated the Municipal Government Act with their actions surrounding the dismissal of the county CAO and the appointment of his replacement.

Tom Urbaniak says municipal councillors are not legally allowed to meet in small groups

Tom Urbaniak teaches political science at Cape Breton University. (Norma Jean MacPhee/CBC)

A political science professor at Cape Breton University says some Richmond County councillors may have violated the Municipal Government Act with their actions surrounding the dismissal of CAO Kent MacIntyre and the appointment of his replacement, Don Marchand.

"I am concerned about how tightly co-ordinated some of the resolutions and actions appear to have been," said Tom Urbaniak.

He said municipal councillors are not legally allowed to meet in small groups with quorum and advance council business without any notification of a meeting, unlike their provincial and federal counterparts.

"If at any point there was a meeting of the three councillors who appear to have co-ordinated their efforts, that would run afoul of the Municipal Government Act," said Urbaniak.

He said any deliberations outside of the formal council meetings contravene Section 22 of that act.

Richmond County council abruptly fired its chief administrative officer last week. (Angela MacIvor/CBC)

Two of the five Richmond councillors have said they were surprised and had no idea of the plans to dismiss the CAO.

Last week, then warden Jason MacLean said in his resignation letter that he had been repeatedly blind-sided by rogue motions and kept in the dark on matters of the utmost importance.

Coun. James Goyetche sided with MacLean in voting against the dismissal of the CAO.

He's also not pleased with the current state of affairs on council.

"There's three controlling the council and I don't think it's right for three people not to inform the other two regardless of what their motives are," said Goyetche.

Jason MacLean decided to step down from his job as warden in Richmond County earlier this week. (Submitted photo)

The three other councillors — Brian Marchand, Gilbert Boucher and Alvin Martell — have refused to be interviewed.

Urbaniak said the small five-member council size creates the possibility for a small group to control it.

"But the check and balance is what we're talking about here," he said, referring to the Municipal Government Act. "So, three councillors cannot form a caucus, whether they call themselves a party or a coalition or don't call themselves anything, they can't be a caucus."

"They have to say what they want to say in a meeting in a full council, if it's a confidential matter, there are procedures for that, it can't be done over a cup of tea," said Urbaniak.

Legal recourse?

He said legal recourse is unclear as the province doesn't have a municipal ombudsperson as they do in other provinces such as Ontario. However, a citizen can ask the minister of Municipal Affairs to investigate.

So far, Chuck Porter has said he won't intervene.

Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story said municipal councillors are not legally allowed to meet in small groups. In fact, they are not allowed to meet in small groups and advance council business without any notification of a meeting.
    Apr 15, 2019 2:00 PM AT

About the Author

From people around the corner to those around the world, Norma Jean MacPhee has more than a decade of experience telling their stories on the radio, TV and online. Reach Norma Jean at norma.jean.macphee@cbc.ca

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