A relatively short public portion of last Monday’s regular Pelham Town council meeting wasn’t without bizarre theatrics after political allies Bob Hildebrandt, Lisa Haun and Marianne Stewart failed in an attempt to block a unanimous Finance and Audit Committee recommendation that accounting giant Deloitte be retained as the Town’s auditor.
With council running up against its 9:30 PM curfew after an earlier closed special meeting went long, Treasurer Teresa Quinlin had prioritized the item due to time sensitivity.
Instead, Hildebrandt took what would normally be a straightforward piece of Town business in a unexpected direction by accusing Deloitte —a multinational firm with 335,000 global employees — of a conflict of interest.
“They’re involved in audits and being the actual accounting firm on these different positions,” Hildebrandt said, appearing to read from a prepared text. “I believe this conflict allowed the information to approve Town of Pelham financial documents without another public entity having approved final statements. They did not declare this in their disclosure statement on the Town of Pelham final audit committee minutes. They’re compromised in my view, therefore I will not approve them as auditors.”
Hildebrandt would not elaborate further, nor provide any other details about what exactly he was referring to.
Haun then used the opportunity to plug competing accounting firm MNP, whom she said she dealt with through her work on the airport board.
“They were head and shoulders a lot less expensive,” Haun said of the Calgary-based company.
“They found a lot of errors … that were made by Deloitte.”
Quinlin debunked that, and said the Finance and Audit Committee “studied in depth” the matter.
“[Deloitte] scored the highest in the evaluation side, and their price was the lowest out of all of [the tenders],” she said. Quinlin then said she had no idea what Hildebrandt was referring to.
I don’t know what the conflict of interest is that you’re describing, Councillor Hildebrandt. This is the first time I’ve heard of this.
“I don’t know what the conflict of interest is that you’re describing, Councillor Hildebrandt. This is the first time I’ve heard of this.”
Hildebrandt remained silent.
Not silent was Hildebrandt and Haun ally Marianne Stewart, who chimed in, “I’m not prepared to vote in favour of Deloitte at this time.”
However, frequent bloc ally Ron Kore — who also sits on the Finance and Audit Committee, alongside Ward 1’s Wayne Olson, Ward 2’s John Wink, and two chartered accountants — refused to back the attempt after Stewart and Haun moved a motion to defer the matter.
After the motion failed, Town Clerk Holly Willford made note of the time of 9:29 PM and asked if an extension of curfew was needed.
“We’ve got one minute,” Mayor Marvin Junkin said, urging the vote. With that, Kore, Wink, Olson and Junkin put the issue to bed by endorsing Deloitte, with Hildebrandt, Haun and Stewart voting against.
The only other matter council really had time for was an updated presentation from the Region regarding Niagara’s controversial Transit Governance Study. Director Matt Robinson tried to allay fears that Pelham would be an afterthought in an integrated regional transit network, reporting that board composition would include 15 representatives — each with their own vote — from all Niagara municipalities.
“This directly reflects what we heard from you,” Robinson said.
A presentation slide estimated that Pelham — which pays $900,000 per year now for its transit service — would pay $1.1 million in 2023 and $1.4 million in 2025 under a regionalized agreement.
Robinson said Pelham transit trips jumped to between 310-444 monthly trips between April and July from 51-91 trips during the same months last year during the peak of the pandemic. Despite widespread complaints about service levels in Pelham, the presentation said Pelham gave a 94 percent five-star rating for the service, with an average transit wait time of 16.4 minutes.
However, Hildebrandt, who has been leading the charge against issues with Niagara Regional Transit’s (NRT) mobile app, again said he had run his own tests and that in some early mornings, the app told him no rides were available, and in more than one instance there was a wait time of 48 minutes.
The odds are against you. I don’t know how I recommend your service.
“The fact is, you’ve got ten vans serving 80,000 people,” Hildebrandt said. “The odds are against you. I don’t know how I recommend your service.”
Robinson said he had met with Pelham CAO David Cribbs regarding ways to improve service, but also added that NRT’s service contract calls for a maximum wait time of 60 minutes — which covers Hildebrandt’s assertion of 48. He added that buses are now out earlier on the roads, at 6:30 AM.
Robinson also touted the launch of a pre-booking system on Sept. 7, designed in part to help those who do not own mobile phones. He added that the online system features a “very sophisticated global algorithm” from Via Mobility that is designed to balance out overloads from mobile on-demand requests and pre-booking.
Cribbs summarized that while the project remains a work in progress, he stressed the Region fully intends to move forward with the system whether Pelham is involved or not.
“I think it’s helpful if we don’t confuse the peccadilloes and disappointments of the current system, which continues to be a work in progress, with the actual system that’s being proposed here for the future — one transit provider for all of Niagara,” the CAO said. “The current system is based on limited funding and a limited amount of vans, buses and infrastructure. If at the end of the day, Pelham opts not to join in, and/or the triple majority fails, we will need to figure out what the future of transit is in this community.”
Odds and ends
◼︎ Fire Chief and Chief Bylaw Enforcement Officer Bob Lymburner reported that 64.6 percent of Niagara residents had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19 as of Aug. 23. He and Junkin then offered strong opinions on the topic.
“It’s disappointing … it sure would’ve been nice if we could’ve got to 75-80 percent in fully vaccinated,” the Mayor said.
“I think until the province or the majority of municipalities moves to mandatory vaccinations we’re not going to reach those numbers that Public Health wants to reach,” Lymburner replied.
Town Hall is currently scheduled to reopen to the public on Sept. 7, although council chambers will remain closed as hybrid and virtual meetings continue. Cribbs said a contact tracing questionnaire will be mandatory for all visitors to the building.
◼︎ Council observed a moment of silence for former mayor Ron Leavens, who passed away Aug. 13. “He was a great mayor because he was a great communicator,” Junkin said.