CENTRAL MANITOULIN—Central Manitoulin council considered an Office and Administration Committee motion (moved in council by Councillor Patricia MacDonald and seconded by Councillor Derek Stephens) to compensate Proulx Law Offices $2,500 for a percentage of the leasehold improvements, time and expenses incurred in moving the law office due to the municipality closing the Old School building, but agreed to defer the motion when it became evident that Janelle Proulx, the owner of the law office, was dismayed by the offer.
Councillor Derek Stephens made note of the presence of the lawyer, accompanied by her mother, in the council chambers and suggested that council might wish to hear her views on the offer.
Ms. Proulx pointed out that she was unaware that the council had been debating an offer of compensation to her in committee. “I learned that it was on the agenda (for that evening’s council meeting), that’s how I knew to come.”
Mayor Richard Stephens explained that most of the discussion of municipal business actually takes place in committee meetings. “The way it works is that committee meets and all discussion takes place within those meetings,” he said. The mayor pointed out that there were usually only five members of the council on the council committees.
“It was in Office and Administration because it didn’t deal directly with property,” noted Councillor MacDonald.
“I heard about it, but it was a shot in the dark to hear that,” noted Ms. Proulx. She pointed out that one of the municipal councillors had said that he would “personally undertake to compensate” her for any loss that she might incur—which she took to mean she would receive a tax break on the property she had to purchase to move her law office, among other expenses. “I sent a detailed letter,” she said. “Frankly, I find the offer of $2,500 offensive and shocking when you look at all of the expenses.” She noted that amount would hardly even cover the cost of a door that she had to install.
Ms. Proulx went on to suggest that the council would not have made such an offer to any of the “older male established lawyers.”
She objected strongly to the process, noting that the motion could easily have passed and she might have been totally unaware that it had even been discussed. She pointed out that she has spent “thousands of dollars and $2,500 is a fraction of it” adding that “I am happy you have let me speak.”
Councillor Baran noted that the letter provided by Ms. Proulx to council did not have costs for the incurred expenses attached and that the committee made its best guess as to the costs in determining what they should offer. “I think we misinterpreted your letter as saying ‘okay guys, make me an offer’,” he said.
“I am still incurring expenses,” interjected Ms. Proulx, adding that she would have answered any questions had she been given an opportunity to respond.
Councillor MacDonald commented that it was not within the purview of one councillor to commit council to a course of action.
“I signed the lease with one person,” rejoined Ms. Proulx. (CAO Ruth Frawley later noted that she was authorized to act on behalf of council to enter into the lease agreement in question.)
“I think we are trying to be fair,” said Councillor MacDonald. “That was the number we came up with, it was higher than what we were originally presented with. I am not sure what you are asking for.”
“I think maybe we could reconsider this,” suggested Mayor Stephens. “We want to be fair. You were caught in the process.”
Councillor Linda Farquhar asked if Ms. Proulx would be willing to provide detailed expenses by the end of October. Mayor Stephens interjected that costs associated with the purchase and outfitting of a new building would not be part of any agreement.
Councillor Stephens weighed in that the lease agreement indicated that it could be terminated with 60 days’ notice from either party. “I think that we have been very fair,” he said. He suggested that it was not necessary to defer the motion.
Councillor Baran spoke in favour of a deferral until the detailed expenses could be provided and Councillor Scott noted that he believed that there was a “communications problem. I think we should have notified her that we would be discussing this.” He indicated that he was still willing to see a compensation of two-thirds of leasehold improvement costs, but not paying for the cost of a new building.
“Is that not what we did?” asked Councillor Stephens. “It came out to $2,500. It was more than what I had predicted.”
Councillor Ted Taylor also noted that while he felt it was fair to pay a portion of the incurred leasehold improvements, he did not extend that to a new building.
Ms. Proulx and her mother left the council meeting before the final decision was made to defer the motion until a clearer picture of the leasehold expenses could be determined.