Tehkummah reeve asks why anonymous petition author hiding

TEHKUMMAH—Tehkummah Reeve Eric Russell and Councillor Laird Lee are both questioning a petition from a group of Tehkummah residents, calling on the Ministry of Municipal Affairs (MMA) to conduct a provincial municipal audit of Tehkummah.

“What ratepayers?” questioned Reeve Russell in regards to last week’s page 1 Expositor Page 1 story ‘Tehkummah ratepayers petition government to look into municipality’s finances.’ “A handful at most. Why was the letter sent anonymously to the ratepayers? If this person feels so strongly that there is wrongdoing then why remain anonymous?”

“The letter (petition) states that the township is not transparent or accountable, but they refuse to be transparent or accountable themselves by not signing this letter,” the reeve continues. “The very few taxpayers who do not understand reserves or an audit think there must be fraud because of their ignorance. I have had many calls about this letter, but not about its content, about the privacy of their interest in the township when residents’ addresses seem to be accessible to this anonymous person.”

Reeve Russell told The Expositor, “the township is not in the red and never has been. We have completed several projects in the past few years such as the Government Road Bridge and the new fire hall, which lots of municipalities would love to have and without it we would not have a fire department.”

“We spent over $100,000 on the South Baymouth Marina by installing new gas tanks and new docks. No money was borrowed and we are presently in good shape financially,” said Reeve Russell, addressing the claims in the petition. “There is no money unaccounted for. Many residents are unhappy because of their recent tax bills. The penalties were calculated incorrectly on 259 accounts in the fall of 2016. The majority of ratepayers do not want an audit redone, which may increase their taxes further. They want their bills corrected. A new audit is not needed to satisfy a few individuals when six new audits would still not satisfy them.”

Councillor Lee wrote a letter to his fellow councillors regarding the petition, which was on the agenda at the January 24 council meeting.

At the meeting, Councillor Lee requested that the letter be taken into a closed session for discussion. No motions were made following the in camera session.

In his letter, Councillor Lee states, “after reading it (the petition) and thinking it through, I feel that the non-evidential statements in the letter are, in my opinion, the work of a select few that have had and continue to have a personal agenda.”

As The Expositor previously reported, an anonymously written petition addressed to the ministry was sent to a number of Tehkummah ratepayers asking for support in lobbying the ministry to step in and conduct an audit of the municipality.

The petition was in response to council deciding not to hire an outside firm to conduct a financial review. Instead, council asked municipal auditor Corey Houle (from Freelandt, Caldwell, Reilly) to attend a Tekhummah council meeting to address financial concerns and questions.

Mr. Houle attended the January 19 Tekhummah council meeting and answered a number of questions from both councillors and members of the public regarding the 2015 audited statements.

In response to questions about the municipality’s 2015 finances, Mr. Houle drew attention to a statement on the first page of the audit which reads, “In our opinion, these consolidated financial statements present fairly, in all material respects, the financial position of the corporation of the Township of Tehkummah as at December 31, 2015, and the result of its operations and its cash flows for the year than ended in accordance with Canadian public sector accounting standards.”

Reeve Russell said that Tehkummah’s municipal lawyer is investigating the petition addressed to the MMA.

“To move forward we must all work together or this township is in trouble,” concluded the reeve.