Residents leave Richmond County council meeting without answers
Council dispensed with regular public Q&A session amid turmoil that includes CAO firing
Frustrated citizens left a Richmond County council meeting with more questions than answers Tuesday night, following weeks of tumult that include the firing of the municipality's top administrator.
Council dispensed with its regular 15-minute session for questions from the public, and instead set aside time to give awards to county volunteers.
As a result, seating was limited and there was no opportunity for citizens to ask about the decision earlier this month to immediately dismiss CAO Kent MacIntyre, or about details surrounding a controversial sundry account linked to the firing.
"So now are they not only not answering questions, but now they're not even letting us ask questions," said Richmond resident Lois Landry. "And if this council can't understand the damage that does to the way we perceive them, they have to go."
While she lauds the hard work of volunteers, she said Tuesday night's meeting wasn't the time or place to recognize them.
Council's 3-2 decision on April 1 to fire the CAO led to the resignation of Warden Jason MacLean, who had voted against the move. On Tuesday, council elected deputy warden Brian Marchand as warden.
"It's bittersweet in a way, I guess," said Marchand. "There was no other nominations, so I'll take the position. It's not the best time to take it with all the controversy going on, but I have no choice."
He said the public question session will return for the May meeting.
"They'll have their time to ask questions, don't worry," said Marchand.
Coun. Alvin Martel declined the nomination for deputy warden. As his was the only name put forward, that position remains vacant.
The reversal of an earlier decision about the sundry account, which includes items not contained in the operating budget, also prompted anger.
At a committee of the whole meeting on April 8, councillors agreed to ask the county's accountants to come in and provide a report on the account.
But on Tuesday, Coun. Alvin Martell abstained from a vote on the matter due to a conflict. Councillors Goyetche and MacLean voted in favour, while Marchand and Coun. Gilbert Boucher voted against.
Any vote resulting in a tie is defeated.
"I felt bad that it was defeated, but I know that's going to come out anyway," said Goyetche, who had put the motion forward.
"The auditors are going to come before council so we'll find out, just it won't be immediately," he said, referring to an annual audit that is done on all municipalities.
Landry said the decision not to proceed with an immediate audit "does not instill a lot of confidence," since the termination of the CAO has been linked to the sundry account.
Ritchie Cotton, a former warden of Richmond County, was also critical of the decision not to proceed.
"I was just curious as to why that wouldn't be done now," said Cotton. "Certainly with the court of public opinion, a lot of people will think the worst of it until it becomes clear what's in it and why it's in it."
Marchand said it didn't make sense to spend the several thousand dollars to do an immediate audit, when one was already scheduled.
Council agrees to mediator
Meanwhile, councillors voted unanimously to accept recommendations from the Department of Municipal Affairs, following a meeting between the council and department representatives last week.
Those recommendations include the appointment of a mediator, and a review of the responsibilities of council and staff.
Some councillors had initially rejected any help from the province.
MacLean read an email into the record from Municipal Affairs Minister Chuck Porter in which the minister offered to pay for a mediator.
"As a result of recent decisions by Richmond County Council members, I have received correspondence from local citizens expressing concerns about governance," Porter said in his April 10 email to council.
But both Marchand and Martell replied in emails that no assistance was needed.
"I do not believe the issues are as bad as stated in the media," replied Marchand in his email, dated April 10. "Yes there are differences of opinion, but that is not uncommon."
Following the vote to accept the help of a mediator, Marchand said he hoped to restore public confidence.
"I hope that we can earn the trust and respect of the community again," said Marchand. "Any decision we make is going to be controversial either way. There's going to be some people happy and some upset."