Absent elected officials raise Hudson residents’ ire
PHOTO BY STEPHANIE O’HANLEY
Water meters were one of several concerns for Véronique Fischer, a resident and lawyer who has an office in Hudson. Fischer asked if people would be unfairly charged for water when water leaks exist.
Hudson residents grilled councillors about the continued absences of both Councillor Rob Spencer and Mayor Ed Prévost at the June 6 council meeting, with one woman questioning why the two continue to receive salaries. Despite asking council to add a resolution project to the agenda, at the last minute Spencer reportedly informed council he couldn’t attend the meeting.
“I believe this is (Spencer’s) third consecutive meeting that he has not attended,” said resident Steve Farrell during the first question period. Farrell asked what laws apply in the situation.
“Was Mr. Spencer involved at all in the strategic plan?” Grinnell asked. Councillor Ron Goldenberg replied that a year ago Spencer attended two or three meetings with council, “not publicly” and “then he decided he was not going to be involved anymore.”
“So all of you councillors have had to take on additional responsibilities,” Farrell continued. “He wasn’t in meetings and we picked up the slack, that’s all,” Goldenberg replied.
Resident Jim Duff asked if Prévost, Spencer, or anybody else was incapable of attending meetings, “are you not obliged under the Cities and Towns act to have a by-election?”
Council voted that on July 1, Councillor Deborah Woodhead will succeed Barbara Robinson in an eight-month term as pro-mayor, acting as Prévost’s replacement until he returns. Councillors also voted to prolong Prévost’s mandate as town mayor, noting serious reasons beyond Prévost’s control and his absence causes “no prejudice” to citizens.
Duff asked if having pro-mayors continuing to replace an absent mayor is “anti-democratic.”
“We can prolong (a mandate) for specific reasons, for example, sickness,” replied Director General Jean-Pierre Roy, adding that under the law illness is a “good reason” to cite for absences.
As for Spencer, without mentioning his name Roy said under the law if a councillor is absent for 90 days and doesn’t attend council meetings, “it’s over,” pointing out the next council session will mark the end of 90 days. But Roy added given legal rulings on such cases, “you can say when a councillor is about 120 days absent” they can be disqualified.
Town lawsuits and settlements
Council voted to pay Hudson’s former auditors, Bourassa Boyer, $40,000 in an out-of-court settlement that ended a $75,000 lawsuit Bourassa Boyer launched last fall against the town for unpaid invoices.
Before the vote, Councillor Natalie Best said, “The town refused to pay because it thought, supported by an expert report, that Bourassa Boyer’s work had not been done according to the rules of their profession to some extent and still do.” The town would have had to sue Bourassa Boyer to be proven right and this would mean hiring accounting experts and lawyers to demonstrate it was the accounting firm’s fault, she continued. “The cost and time involved in this matter would be significant,” Best said, later noting “the town cannot justify spending more in fees than the potential benefits in this highly complex case, (which is) difficult to prove amid allegations of contributory negligence on the town’s part.”
During the second question period several residents expressed concern about the town’s high legal bills and asked when Hudson will settle 16 remaining legal cases. “How soon can we turn off this tap?,” asked Duff, to which DG Roy replied, the town is trying to settle cases. “We cannot control people who are suing the town.”
“There are no new ones on the horizon? asked Duff.
“For the moment, no,” DG Roy answered, drawing laughter from residents.
Water conservation & meters
Council approved a water conservation awareness campaign of up to $10,000 as part of Hudson’s water conservation strategy. Councillor Nicole Durand said eventually the town plans to have water meters in the town’s businesses and homes.
During the second question period resident Véronique Fischer questioned the wisdom of introducing water meters since water loss can be due to leakage rather than people wasting water and asked when metering would begin.
“How much leakage do we have in our water pipes?” Fischer asked, to which Woodhead replied, “I do not have that information.”
Goldenberg told Fischer, “The plan is for the commercial water meters to come first, residential are a long term project,” adding that the town is seeking financing through government infrastructure programs.
When Duff asked whether commercial water metering made sense, Goldenberg replied, “I think the businesses wanted water meters...that’s why we went ahead with it.”
False Fire Alarm By-Law
Resident Eva McCartney asked during the first question period why some rates charged for false fire alarms are double Montreal’s rates.
“The third intervention in Montreal is $250, in Hudson it’s $500. Why is there such a discrepancy?” DG Roy responded, “I will ask the Fire Chief why he suggested that.”
McCartney asked why copies of the bylaw were only available in French, given the size of Hudson’s English community. “We are a bilingual city and we really try our best,” Roy said, adding the bylaw would be translated into English as soon as possible.
“Please let’s not take the chance of somebody disconnecting their fire system because they have one or two (false alarms) and they’re worried about the fines,” resident Frank Hicks implored during the second question period, as he urged council to revise the fines.