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Public denied access to Amoco documents

The Review, mercredi 9 juillet 2008

Public denied access to Amoco documents

Contradictory account of ownership suggests taxpayers are stakeholders

BY MATTHEW TALBOT
mtalbot@thereview.on.ca

HAWKESBURY - There is much confusion surrounding the status and ownership of the Hawkesbury Community Industrial Strategic Planning Association, with different stakeholders offering contradictory accounts.

At issue is whether or not the organization's financial statements should be open to the public.

The Review sought information about the HCISPA, also called the Amoco board by Hawkesbury staff and council, after it appeared as an asset on the municipal financial statements for 2008.

The HCISPA has in fact appeared consistently on the municipal statements as an asset from when it was created in 2001, after Amoco Fabrics and Fibres transferred its land to the Town of Hawkesbury.

The town then immediately transferred the land to the HCISPA.

While a request for access to the HCISPA financial statements has been denied because of claims it is separate from the town, other sources say otherwise.

When asked who owns the HCISPA, its president, Michel Beaulne, replied Hawkesbury.

"It's a part of the town," Beaulne said. "It's an entity of the Town of Hawkesbury."

Even as Hawkesbury residents are stakeholders in the HCISPA, its finances and operational details are not being made public.

"It's an entity of the Town of Hawkesbury."
- Michel Beaulne, HCISPA president

Unavailability of financial statements challenges requirement for transparency

Beaulne's affirmation that the HCISPA is an entity of the town comes as The Review is denied a Freedom of Information request to access the HCISPA financial statements by Louis Veilleux, its manager and the town's industrial commissioner.

The Town of Hawkesbury also denied the request, with Clerk Christine Groulx saying the town does not have control over the financial statements.

In an earlier interview, Hawkesbury chief administrative officer Normand Beaulieu commented the financial statements are in the town's possession but would have to be accessed via Freedom of Information.

As with ownership of the financial statements, the ownership of the HCISPA is similarly unclear, even among its own administration.

Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy Act; sections cited by Louis Veilleux as reason not to release financial statements.

2(1)
"institution" means,

(a) a municipality,

(b) a school board, municipal service board, city board, transit commission, public library board, board of health, police services board, conservation authority, district social services administration board, local services board, planning board, local roads board, police village or joint committee of management or joint board of management established under the Municipal Act, 2001 or the City of Toronto Act, 2006 or a predecessor of those Acts,

(c) any agency, board, commission, corporation or other body designated as an institution in the regulations; ("institution")

(3) Every agency, board, commission, corporation or other body not mentioned in clause (b) of the definition of "institution" in subsection (1) or designated under clause (c) of the definition of "institution" in subsection (1) is deemed to be a part of the municipality for the purposes of this Act if all of its members or officers are appointed or chosen by or under the authority of the council of the municipality. R.S.O. 1990, c. M.56, s. 2 (3); 2002, c. 17, Sched. F, Table.

While Beaulne maintains it is part of Hawkesbury, Veilleux says the HCISPA is not.

In a letter rejecting The Review's request for the financial statements, he commented the HCISPA is not considered an institution as defined in the Municipal Freedom of Information and Privacy Act and as such is not subject to the act.

Nor, he said, is it deemed part of Hawkesbury as provided for by a section in the act.

 

The act gives several definitions for the term institution, including many different kinds of municipally- affiliated boards.

While Veilleux says these definitions don't make the HCISPA a municipal board, a source from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MAH) said circumstances surrounding the HCISPA tell a different story.

Chief among these circumstances is the fact that all members of council sit on the HCISPA board of directors.

"When you have the majority of board members being members of council, as soon as that happens, you have in effect a municipal body," the MAH source said.

According to Beaulne, all of Hawkesbury council sits on the board, along with two lay members: Jean-Guy Barrette of the Hawkesbury Industrial Investment Association and Gilles Lahaie.

Despite all of council sitting on the board, including herself, Hawkesbury Mayor Jeanne Charlebois said "What they decide is final. They act independent of council."

But minutes of meetings, found on Hawkesbury's municipal website reveal that the HCISPA has consistently reported back to the municipality throughout its existence, on the municipal agenda under the heading "Municipal council committees".

And in 2005, a resolution was passed at the municipal level nominating seven Hawkesbury councillors and three members of the public,Barrette, Lahaie and Gilles Gauthier, to the HCISPA board of directors.

Beaulne said councillors are automatically instated onto the HCISPA board of directors upon election to a municipal post.

In an interview yesterday (Tuesday), Hawkesbury deputy treasurer Michel Thibodeau said he was the treasurer of the HCISPA until 2007, when the board of directors chose to elect themselves as officers as per their charter.

And until March 2007, Hawkesbury's then chief administrative officer was a resource person for the HCISPA.

On March 26, 2007 the municipal council accepted a recommendation stating the CAO would withdraw from the HCISPA as a resource person.

Sections of the Municipal Act, 2001, starting at section 194, meanwhile, detail circumstances surrounding municipal service boards.

"It's hard for me to say without getting a legal opinion, but it seems this Amoco board may be viewed as being a municipal service board," the MAH source said.

"They can say whatever they want, but the Municipal Act would apply to it."

The official said the town could have policies in place to a different effect, however those policies have not been referred to nor released by Hawkesbury.

The HCISPA is listed on Hawkesbury's consolidated financial statements as a long-term asset in the same place as Hawkesbury Hydro, which is a municipal service board.

The HCISPA and Hydro account for half of Hawkesbury's assets.

"If it's an asset, it would be considered to be part of the municipality," the MAH source explained.

Despite that, neither the town nor the HCISPA said it will release the financial statements of the association.

Veilleux said it is likely the statements will never be released.

He said the HCISPA deals with a limited number of businesses and the interests of those businesses need to be protected.

Veilleux, meanwhile, has maintained he is not considered a public servant and is not paid a salary by the town of Hawkesbury.

According to Beaulieu, Veilleux's salary does come from Hawkesbury's coffers but those funds are linked to the HCISPA.

Beaulieu said the HCISPA, the organization Veilleux manages, contributes a sum of money to the Town of Hawkesbury that pays for Veilleux's salary.

"He's an employee of the Town of Hawkesbury," Charlebois said of Veilleux. "His salary and benefits are paid by the town."

The MAH source said this arrangement can happen, but added, "I don't think you could call [the HCISPA] an independent body then, not even necessarily at arm's length, especially when you have members of council on it."

Under the municipal act, local boards must be transparent and follow procedural by-laws and its accounts must be audited.


The letter from Hawkesbury, rejecting The Review's request for the Hawkesbury Community Industrial Strategic Planning Association financial statements. A similar letter from the HCISPA was also received.

While land-sale discussions and legal issues can be discussed in-camera, the day-to-day operation of the board must be done in a manner similar to that of municipalities, in the public eye.

"It doesn't matter what the board is set up for," the ministry source said. "They don't have to release legal opinions, because that is protected.

"If they're looking at selling the land, negotiations can take place behind closed doors - that's normal business practice. But everything has to be passed in an open meeting of council anyhow."

The former Amoco Fabrics and Fibres land has made news recently since it is the proposed site of a commercial development by developer Goldmanco.

Other than rumour, there have been no recent developments surrounding Goldmanco.

Charlebois said she would not comment on circumstances surrounding the Goldmanco deal, even as the town finalized controversial new zoning changes that would allow the Harden Group to develop a similar commercial plaza directly adjacent to the Amoco lands.

Goldmanco and Canadian Tire, located on the northern border of the Amoco lands, objected to the development.

The Amoco lands also made news when it was revealed that Bentley Leathers, a current tenant of the Amoco building, had filed for bankruptcy protection.

Shortly after the news about Bentley was released, Veilleux and Beaulieu called a press conference to discussthe true nature of the Amoco lands and the relationship between the town and the HCISPA.

At that meeting, the two stated categorically that the HCISPA is an entity entirely separate from the town of Hawkesbury.

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