Editor’s note: Ever since her dismissal by the previous Pelham Town Council, in May 2017, the Voice has sought to interview former Town Treasurer Cari Pupo. As Treasurer during a period of significant financial stress—particularly related to the Town’s East Fonthill adventures and misadventures—Pupo’s insight as to what went wrong (and sometimes right), and at whose direction, is unique. On her departure from Town Hall, however, she signed a non-disclosure agreement. The NDA has so far limited what Pupo can offer specifically about her knowledge of what transpired to take Pelham, by the reckoning of some, to the brink of fiscal meltdown. Over the holidays, Pupo contacted the Voice and provided the following statement. Her decision comes after months of continued frustration, she says, with Town Hall on two fronts—what she and other neighbours have identified as an illegal duplex operating on their street; and a flooded basement that she attributes to Public Works inaction. In order to ensure that those named had an immediate and equal opportunity to respond to Pupo’s assertions, the Voice requested comment from former Mayor David Augustyn, former CAO Darren Ottaway, Councillor John Wink, Treasurer Teresa Quinlin, Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato, CAO David Cribbs, and Fire Chief Bob Lymburner. Responses received follow Pupo’s commentary.
My name is Cari Pupo and until spring 2017 I was the Treasurer for the Town of Pelham. This is my story, which I will break into sections so the residents of this town can understand exactly what is happening.
I worked at the Niagara District School Board then the Conseil scolaire Viamonde for approximately 20 years. In my tenure on these school authorities I witnessed only two firings. I was hired by the Town of Pelham, a place that I love, in 2008. My role was to do anything to make sure the ratepayers of this town were taken care of.
However, after the previous Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) was hired, 36 staff were either fired or resigned. The previous CAO was at the Town for only about five years.
I invited everyone with concerns into my office, and openly admitted if we had made a mistake dealing with an issue that we would correct it.
In early 2017, at a public information meeting held at Fire Station #1, with other staff and consultants, I was touted as the best treasurer in the Region by the previous council and the previous CAO.
Two weeks later I was given a report by the previous CAO suggesting I was responsible for harassing staff, which was absolutely false.
Right after this happened, the previous CAO and the previous mayor asked me to push through something that was not approved by council, as they didn’t want it publicly known.
I want this whole town to know that I am an accountant, and have a designation, and if I ever did what they asked me to do I could lose my designation. I worked hard and long to achieve all of the education I have gained. I want this town to know I would never do it and did not do it.
And being principled, I left the office after the former mayor asked me to push it through because he did not want to make it public, and I told my Deputy Treasurer what had happened. I left the office deeply upset about what the previous CAO and mayor were doing.
I knew at that point, in early spring, that regardless if I did what they asked or didn’t, I was going to be fired. I went to see a lawyer.
Following my firing, the former CAO asked the current Treasurer to dig up dirt on me so they didn’t have to pay me so much in the termination settlement.
The information that became public by this current Treasurer is absolutely incorrect. We had previous history, having worked together before at Niagara College. The current Treasurer also worked with the firm that investigated the false harassment complaint made against me. I believe the current Treasurer did what she could to try to hurt me even more than I had been hurt by being fired under false accusations.
Also, it is quite interesting that the accounting firm that was hired to try to explain everything to the public after the Town’s financial problems became widely reported, was also the firm that the current Treasurer used while she worked at Niagara College. I was also told that the previous CAO told them what to say to the public.
I want everyone in this town that I love to know that, as the Treasurer, I worked only for the ratepayers. In my role I did not have the authority to make decisions on how to use the tax dollars we received.
If any ratepayer has an issue with how dollars are spent it is on the council. Residents can look back at so many videos on YouTube, or go online and get minutes of meetings of Town Council, and see when a councillor asked me if we had the money to fund a request.
I openly stated that no, we did not, that we were already borrowing from the reserves to fund capital projects until we debentured them once they were done.
Despite my response to them, on almost every occasion council would approve the request, which left it up to me to find out how the Town was going to pay for it with the budget dollars we had available.
The Town has become a Boys Club, where the decisions are made over a beer at a local bar. Certain senior male staff members go out drinking together on a Thursday or Friday night, where they talk openly about things going on in Town Hall. I know that this Boys Club is sticking together and deciding how the issue of the trespass into my home is being dealt with.
On November 2, as previously reported in the Voice, my son was cornered by a young man that lives across the street from us in an illegal duplex in Fonthill. I and my neighbours had long complained to the Town about this single-family home being illegally turned into two apartments.
Earlier, on September 23, for some reason the Town had sent the Fire Chief (who is also the chief bylaw officer) to do an inspection of the home. Current zoning clearly states that the neighborhood is limited to single family dwellings.
Please understand the Fire Chief has nothing to do with a zoning violation. But he told a councillor he knew how to handle the matter.
As stated by the current CAO in a recent interview with the Voice, if the Building Department goes in and sees that work outside the scope of a building permit was done to turn a living space into multiple units, then the property owner has to apply for a rezoning application. But in this case, all that we neighbouring residents were told by the Fire Chief was that the house looked better than it did before.
We asked for certain documents relating to this inspection from the Town, through a Freedom of Information request. Some of the documents we received from the Town are false and made up after the fact. They say that certain other staff members were present with the Fire Chief during the September 23 inspection. This is not true. We have emails from other Town staff that confirm this.
In addition, we received a report from the Fire Prevention Officer, which is absolutely ridiculous. The Fire Prevention Officer has nothing to do with a zoning issue. Only the Building and Planning Department deals with zoning. When I worked at the Town and we would never send out a Fire Prevention Officer to do an inspection about a zoning violation. Their role is to do fire prevention, smoke detectors, inspecting homes that have fire-related issues, going to schools and making children aware of escape routes. Fire Prevention does not do zoning violations.
Furthermore, one of our ward representatives, Councillor John Wink, reported to staff and council that the owners of the house were upstanding citizens who drove a BMW. In fact, one of the property owners is a volunteer on the Bandshell Committee with John Wink. When we neighbours requested another inspection of their property, John Wink was the first person they called. If these were upstanding citizens, then why didn’t they follow the proper policies of the Town related to zoning variances? This Town has not dealt with this situation properly and they know it. They are covering up the fact that they failed to do their job.
Water and sewer backup
There have been multiple water and sewer backups on Emmett Street, including at my home, where I had $40,000 dollars worth of damage in my basement. It is devastating, particularly because this street was supposed to be corrected in 2013, but the work was pushed out, year-over-year, by Town Hall in order to divert money to the Town’s East Fonthill development.
I have not received a satisfactory response from anyone in Town Hall as to when this work will finally be done.
Our family lost a beautiful, beautiful boy over the holidays. At just 15 years old, his strength and courage over his three-year battle with cancer has given me the courage to speak out to the residents of this town. ♦
Councillor John Wink responds:
As I indicated in an email to Ms Pupo on November 17, I confirmed to her that I know the property owners and probably 20% of the people in the town. I did not know that they drove a BMW until Ms Pupo told me in an email. Frankly, I do not care what type of vehicle they drive. Also, contrary to Ms Pupo’s assertion, I am not a volunteer on the Bandshell Committee.
I did receive an email from the property owners on October 22, addressed to Councillor Kore and myself, requesting a meeting with us. On October 24, I responded that this was an issue between neighbours and an issue over zoning regulations. I indicated that the owners’ concerns were more appropriately discussed with Town staff. I advised that I had forwarded their email to the CAO and the Director of Community Planning, and they would be in contact regarding a meeting.
The last comment I would make is about Ms Pupo’s implication that I made comments to staff and council regarding the property owners. This is hearsay and is incorrect. I have never advocated or supported their position with respect to their Emmett Street property.
Town Clerk Nancy Bozzato responds:
In response to Ms Pupo’s suggestion that documents provided through an Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection Of Privacy Act (MFIPPA) request were false and made up after the fact, please be advised that Section 48(1) of MFIPPA reads:
“No person shall: …
(c.1) alter, conceal or destroy a record, or cause any other person to do so, with the intention of denying a right under this Act to access the record or the information contained in the record”…
There are serious penalties associated with such actions as set out in The Act.
If the requestor disagrees with a Decision made under MFIPPA they have an option to appeal to the Information and Privacy Commissioner.
I confirm that any documents provided in relation to the MFIPPA request referenced by Ms Pupo were exact copies of the original documents and were not altered in any way except for specific redactions pursuant to exemptions as set out in The Act.
Fire Chief Bob Lymburner responds:
Ms Pupo has made quite a number of allegations against a number of employees. We as a group would like to answer all your questions through our CAO so he can deliver a clear picture of the situation and clear up any misunderstandings.
Pelham CAO David Cribbs responds:
The basic allegation doesn’t deserve commentary. The Town’s senior leadership team is gender-balanced, with a slight female dominance: the Treasurer, the Clerk, the Director of Recreation Culture and Wellness, and the Director of Planning and Development are female. The Fire Chief, the Director of Public Works, and I are male.
I will point out that I am still new to the community and have yet to meet Ms Pupo, so it seems unreasonable to suggest that I am part of a sinister cabal that has ill will towards her.
Unfortunately, problems occasionally arise with sanitary sewers, water pipes and periodically with resident behavior which may need to result in bylaw enforcement. Unhappiness with unfortunate occurrences in these operational areas is completely understandable, however by their very nature these are instances where pleasing all members of the public is not always possible. Town staff are professionals and are dedicated to delivering critical public services to all residents. I am proud of the efforts of the Town’s senior leadership team and front line staff to consistently deliver these services, sometimes in challenging circumstances. I would suggest that the general high quality of life here in Pelham is partially attributable to the general success of staff in delivering services that enhance and protect quality-of-life.
Treasurer Teresa Quinlin declined to comment.
Former CAO Darren Ottaway did not acknowledge a request for comment.
Former Mayor David Augustyn did not acknowledge a request for comment.