Renfrew — Although a majority of the elected members of Renfrew council successfully passed a motion demanding Mayor Tom Sidney resign during the March 26 council meeting, they understood the motion was largely symbolic with no authority to enforce it. 

However, council was able to remove the mayor from committee assignments. When the motion passed, the mayor only had the ability to chair council meetings and he would continue to represent the town at official functions. His appointments were reduced to being a member of the Renfrew Public Library Board and he would continue to work with town staff on a working group that was formed by CAO Robert Tremblay. 

Towards the end of the meeting, council voted in favour of a similar motion introduced by Councillor John McDonald that delivered the same sanctions against Reeve Emon.

Council had been told the Municipal Act has no provisions for a local council to remove a sitting mayor no matter how badly some members want to make that happen.

The calls for his resignation stemmed from a scathing report commissioned by Renfrew council to get to the bottom of the $35 million Ma-te-Way expansion that was originally going to be built with an $18.9 million budget.

When the final draft of the report was presented to council and the general public on March 21, it set the stage for a voting showdown between the mayor, with Reeve Peter Emon on his side, facing the five new councilors who had only been on the job since they took the Oath of Office in late November, 2022. 

During the nearly-six-hour meeting, it became evident that many councilors and several members of the crowded council chamber were becoming more and more incensed as the auditors delivered a litany of failures ranging from the negligence of former council members to show some leadership and demand timely and accurate reporting from senior staff.

At the time many financial reports were delivered verbally with no legitimate paper trail to track the progress of the project that included nearly every estimate coming in way over budget and months behind schedule. 

There were moans and gasps as residents heard firsthand the lack of any form of accountability or transparency on all aspects of the project. They were told the previous council apparently had no idea of the financial crisis exploding under their governance.

The residents were restless. The new councilors were furious and frustrated because through no fault of their own, they were dragged into this debacle and forced to contract outside auditors just to understand the financial mess they were now responsible for. That meeting accelerated an already fractious council and it kicked off a firestorm with both residents and some council members demanding someone had to be accountable. 

It was quickly evident that person was Mayor Tom Sidney and to a lesser extent, Reeve Peter Emon. 

The report pulled back the financial curtain that was hiding the true financial toll the over-budget project was going to cost Renfrew taxpayers. The report also highlighted the sheer incompetence of some senior staff members who blatantly ignored standard procurement policies and bypassed established financial oversight on a 96,000 sq. ft. building that is still not completed and may only be completed by December of this year. 

During the presentation of the report to council, John Skorobohacz of WCSC Consulting said one of the conclusions reached during the audit was that no one person could be held accountable and in fact, there was plenty of blame to go around. He said some of the blame must be attributed to all members of the previous council. 

Mayor Don Eady, Reeve Emon, councilors Mike Coulas, Sandi Heins, Andrew Evans, Arlene Jamieson and Tom Sidney all served during the 2018-2022 term of council. At the end of the term, Mayor Eady, along with councilors Evans and Jamieson did not run for re-election in 2022. Peter Emon was acclaimed as Reeve for the 2022-2026 term and Councilors Coulas, Heins and Sidney decided to run for mayor. It was a nail-biter as Mayor-elect Sidney (873 votes) defeated Coun. Heins (861 votes) by only 12 votes and Coun. Coulas (691) finished third.

Despite Mr. Skorobohacz’s conclusion all members of council had to bear some of the blame, Councilor Kyle Cybulski introduced a motion demanding the mayor step down. That was followed by Councilor McDonald’s motion to remove the mayor from the relevant appointments. Both motions passed with only Reeve Peter Emon voting against them. 

Accuracy Of Report

The auditors made two presentations to council and throughout the process Councilors McDonald and Cybulski, along with all councilors expressed their support for the accuracy of the two auditors who wrote the report.

In fact, the councilors were so impressed with the accuracy and professionalism of the consultants, they went so far as to inquire if they had the ability to conduct a forensic audit. They stated if a forensic audit uncovered potential illegal practices, they would likely pursue criminal charges if warranted. 

However, by introducing motions demanding Mayor Sidney resign and the second motion that would penalize Mayor Sidney by removing him from some traditional appointments, they purposely ignored Mr. Skorobohacz’s conclusion all former councilors, including Mayor Sidney and Reeve Emon had to accept their inability to reign in some staff. 

He told council the inability of the seven former elected official to assert their legislative powers only contributed to the growing number of project delays and overages. The lack of oversight and reluctance to demand that staff submit written reports was a major failure, he said. The refusal to demand accountability from every senior staff member and not recognize some staff knowingly violated town policies he identified was a sign of poor governance. He said those inactions were a collective failure of previous council to exercise due diligence.

Councillor John McDonald’s motion to remove the mayor from appointments had the support of four other councilors. Everyone around the council table realized it would pass and for the first time in the history of Renfrew, a sitting mayor would have many of his traditional responsibilities reduced. 

CAO Tremblay explained to council the working group is tasked with analyzing workplace policies and make recommendations to him on how to improve the workplace environment and identify areas of concern. Among those areas were responsible governance and any potential projects or services that failed to deliver full value of tax dollars. The same revenue that is collected through residential taxation. 

When council met on March 26, none of the previous members of council (2018-2022) made any public statements related to their role and the findings of the report assigning some of the blame to them. There were no public admissions of their collective failure, nor was any form of apology delivered. 

Mr. Skorobohacz said among the many duties of any elected official must include a commitment to avoid and/or identify any needless waste of tax dollars, and in some cases, their financial oversight must include their ability to recognize flagrant and deliberate abuses of tax dollars within their municipality. 

He said it is a necessary function as the people’s representative around the council table to take strong actions to anyone, including staff, elected or any third-party working for or on behalf of their respective municipality.

That recommendation was ignored by the previous council and the current council was aware of his finding and proceeded to remove the mayor from his assignments.

By Bruce McIntyre, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 12, 2024 at 08:57

This item reprinted with permission from   The Eganville Leader   Eganville, Ontario
Comments are Welcome - Leave a reply below - Posts are moderated