The best gauge of how Hudson’s taxpayers feel about their current administration is the attendance at monthly council meetings. Monday’s February session attracted another full house, eager to catch the latest episode in the embattled burg’s ongoing political-reality show, now in its fourth season.
Both question periods heard residents clamouring for answers on contentious files, including:
– Employee X’s suspension. Director-general Jean-Pierre Roy hinted at an indefinite suspension in response to a question from Eva McCartney. (Everybody in Hudson knows they’re talking about about Parks and Recreation director Julia Schroeder’s 15-day suspension for questioning the planning for the Radio-Canada Petite Séduction shoot, but God help anyone who says so in public.)
The exchange began with McCartney asking the mayor whether the sanction had been lifted.
“The inquest still going on,” said Prévost, an unfortunate choice of words as he tossed the hissing bomb to Roy.
“It is a confidential matter concerning an employee,” Roy began. “Technically the suspension was to have finished on the 26th of this month, but for some technical reason it continues but I cannot tell you more, this is confidential.”
McCartney persisted. “Until when is the suspension continuing?”
“ Indefinite, but don’t write…” (audible reaction from the crowd.) Roy struggled to contain his temper. “I’m trying to give you some information in your language…if I do not say it correctly I will tell you correctly. This is a confidential matter…he is not suspended indefinitely…for a technical reason, because we did not receive some testimony we needed to continue. That is all I will say this evening, because it’s not respectful for the employee to talk about his case when it’s not settled.”
“Do you foresee when the suspension will continue until?”
“This is confidential for the moment.”
The strange exchange highlights this administration’s increasingly costly failure to suppress dissent, both internally and from without. This month’s list of cheques issued by the town included one of more than $20,000 to legalists Dunton Rainville to cover eight invoices. That prompted Helen Kurgansky to note this administration has blown $120,000 on legal advice over the last three months.
“The last thing I want to do is fill the pockets of the legal community,” Prévost told her.
We don’t know which budget envelope the legal fees will come from, but we will later this month. There is reason to believe this administration has juggled its 2016 budget figures to create a $600,000 contingency fund. If so, it will emerge when the town has to forward its final version to the municipal affairs ministry at the end of February.
This administration never passes on an opportunity to blame its predecessors in whatever way it can. The culture and tourism director got a Jan. 11 email from the Lester B. Pearson School Board together with a March 2012 letter of intent “signed by the former recreation director and the former director-general” committing the town to cover a third of the $75,000 cost of new playground equipment at Mount Pleasant Elementary. Council resolved to find the $25,000 but the inference was that the exes had acted inappropriately in binding the town to a deal the council of that period had never approved. (I’m told by people close to the file that those smeared by the administration have the documents to disprove council’s accusations.)
UPDATE: Former interim mayor Diane Piacente confirms the issue was discussed. (See her comment.)
Council’s critics note the absence of cost-cutting zeal when it comes to funding publicity-generating events. Hudson will pay $6,000 toward the $18,500 cost of the Land Art project to deface Hudson’s greenspaces, $7,500 plus insurance and security for the annual St. Paddy’s alcohol festival, 10 grand for the Hudson Music Festival (but no insurance) and $15,000 for the Hudson Village Theatre.
The subsidized seniors housing block being proposed for Wyman Memorial’s parking lot is another financial albatross in the making. We’re told (by the councillor for the area (who also manages the Manoir Cavagnal) that Hudson taxpayers won’t have to subsidize it much because they’ll be reimbursed by the Société d’habitation du Québec and the MRC. How much is much? People who know these things tell me 24 to 32 units are not financially sustainable, especially when rents starting at less than $600 must cover the cost of employees to care for, cook and clean the residents. They wonder where churchgoers and employees of this new facility will park once Wyman’s parking lot is gone. They wonder why the town is considering rezoning for this facility when the town has R-55, a 12-acre site already zoned for a continuing care seniors campus.
Mayor Prévost noted with gloom he was mulling dropping Saturday morning meetings, “…an underwhelming success…there have been four, five, six at the most.” The aim was to open an informal back channel by giving residents the opportunity for one-on-ones with the mayor and councillors. “Instead, people prefer to come up to the mic at council meetings and ask questions. Have to deal with that…try to come up with a better way of communicating with you and your concerns.”
There was no clear explanation of why the town was budgeting up to $35,000 to prepare for a March 17th or 24th continuation of this administration’s interminable strategic planning process.
“Sometime in March, we will provide you with shortened version of strategic plan which will become known as the mission statement where you will be asked again to comment, suggest or otherwise your agreement or disagreement. That will be mailed out.” To what end? Governments are elected to lead, not to follow.
If it’s not someone else’s fault, obfuscate.“Several residents are upset with amount of tax increases, and rightly so,” the mayor said in his customary opening monologue. “Most are because of the impact of property values, generally five per cent…however in light of some of the substantial increases, we’re meeting with the evaluators Wednesday (today) so we can understand the basics of their work that we expect to share with you shortly thereafter. We have no control over municipal evaluation procedures. We tendered under the banner of the MRC. I ask you to be patient, wait to hear from us.”
Later, an impatient Jim McDermott asked the mayor what line item on the 2016 budget was affected by the new property evaluations.
“We have a budget we’re not about to start playing around with,” Prévost countered.
Under McDermott’s prodding the mayor admitted the valuation roll was filed Nov. 1, six weeks before the adoption of the 2016 budget.
“So why didn’t you make adjustment before tabling the budget?”
What DOESN’T the town spend money on? On Monday, council approved a bid from collection agency ARO to collect $87,229 in back business taxes for 2014 and 2015. It will cost the town a quarter of whatever ARO succeeds in collecting. In neighbouring Rigaud, mayor Hans Gruenwald, when he finds himself with a few spare minutes, gets on the phone with the town’s tax deadbeats and warns them to pay up because he’s got bills to pay.
Just sayin’ but isn’t that the way to run a town?