St. Lazare council questioned over alleged financial discrepancy
PHOTO BY JOHN JANTAK
Former St. Lazare Councillor Michel Lambert questioned Mayor Robert Grimaudo at the August 1 council meeting about an alleged discrepancy in regards to financial stipends that were paid to councillors for attending various administrative and committee meetings in 2014.
St. Lazare council was taken to task at the last public council meeting August 1 after a resident asked why councillors received financial stipends for sitting in on numerous municipal administrative and committee meetings they allegedly may not have attended.
The issue was raised during question period by former councillor Michel Lambert who received copies regarding each of the six councillor’s financial remuneration statements for attending and participating in various committees meetings in 2013 and 2014, which he obtained from the municipality after filing an access to information request.
What bothers Lambert the most is what he feels is an apparent discrepancy regarding attendance that he noticed when he began reviewing the documents. In 2013, the number of meetings attended by councillors annually averaged about eight and their participation at each meeting was documented.
In 2014, participation jumped almost tenfold with most councillors attending about 75 meetings that year. District 2 Councillor Pamela Tremblay sat in on 102 meetings and attended 18 meetings in June alone, according to the documents obtained by Lambert. Councillors received a $100 stipend for every committee meeting attended at the time.
Salary hike replaced stipends
Committee meeting stipends, which were introduced in mid-2013, were abolished in March 2015 after council approved a salary increase that saw each councillor’s annual compensation increase from $11,000 to $19,000. Grimaudo said the raise was adopted to do away with stipends altogether.
Grimaudo publicly stated during the March 2015 council meeting that in 2014 councillors received stipends ranging from ranging from $6,000 to $10,000 and the average remuneration was $7,400. “What we did tonight is not really a salary increase,” he told Your Local Journal at the time. “In reality, they all earned an average of $19,000 last year. It’s just that the money came from two different pots. What we did was simplify the administration of the salaries.”
For Lambert, the amount of money paid to councillors for their administrative and committee meeting attendance in 2014 still doesn’t add up, saying part of the problem is that the town apparently doesn’t have any documentation to indicate what meetings individual councillors sat on.
Council unhappy with insinuations
Some of the councillors, and Mayor Grimaudo, shot back accusing Lambert of making unjustified insinuations towards council that they intentionally pilfered public funds. Lambert said he never accused anyone on council of intentionally stealing money; he just wanted a clarification as to why there was such a significant discrepancy between committee remuneration paid between 2013 and 2014 and why each councillor’s meeting attendance wasn’t documented in 2014.
“Mr. Lambert accused council of taking money, which I didn’t like,” said Grimaudo. “He is making an issue out of a non-issue. If mistakes were made in 2014, we will find them. All the information that he asked for will be provided to him. If – and I stress the word ‘if’ – errors have been made at an administrative or payroll level, they will be rectified.
“It’s too bad that because there’s an election coming up in November and with council having done an excellent job over the past four years, it’s really sad that Mr. Lambert – for political reasons – is digging up non-existent issues that are four years old,” Grimaudo added.
Two council votes against resolution
Mayor Grimaudo also criticized District 4 Councillor Marc-André Esculier after he and District 1 Councillor Lise Jolicoeur voted against adopting a resolution to provide a $2,000 financial contribution to l’Association des gens d’affaires de St. Lazare Inc. for their upcoming golf tournament.
“This is a non-profit association that is putting on an event to raise money and give it back to local organizations like the Vaudreuil-Soulanges Palliative Care Residence. What Mr. Esculier doesn’t realize is that whatever money is raised, it will be given back to the community,” said Grimaudo.
Esculier said he voted against the resolution because he feels it’s not right for town to user taxpayers’ money to support a fundraising operation for a business association. “There’s a big difference between fundraising for services offered by charity organizations and schools and an association designed to make money,” he said.