Town forecasts an increase in legal fees budget

By Merna Emara
Staff Writer

The Administration and Finance Executive Committee discussed a preliminary budget for corporate, emergency services and administration and finance, and an item that was heavily discussed was a forecasted increase in legal and integrity commissioner costs.

Town treasurer Dawn Galusha made a presentation to the committee, presenting budget forecasts and their actuals in previous years. Galusha penciled in $55,000 in integrity commissioner costs. This is a 9,900 per cent increase from the $5,000 budget in 2021. 

Galusha’s estimate comes after the integrity commissioner bill reached about $40,000 in 2021, following investigation of complaints submitted against Coun. Douglas Judson and Fort Frances Mayor June Caul. 

This came in the form of two bills from Darrell Matson. The first bill, $18,636.53, was for legal services sought from Aird & Berlis LLP. The other bill, $17,613.97, was for labour services to produce the report submitted when an anonymous complaint was filed against Judson. The complaint filed, also anonymously, against Caul cost the town about $6,000. 

“We have increased our estimate for integrity Commissioner costs as well as legal and under the mayor and council section,” Galusha said. “We kept consistent with some of the other things such as Point Park litigation.”

The integrity commissioner component was added to municipalities in 2019 when council passed a bylaw to adopt a Code of Conduct for council members, local boards and committees of the Corporation of the Town of Fort Frances. Paul S. Heayn was appointed, and will be on contract with the town until December 2022.

Since then, the town has been including a budget for the integrity commissioner services.  

Galusha said when the bylaw was added in 2019, the town budgeted $10,000. Galusha said in 2019, the town only spent $600. 

During the meeting, Judson said council has to deal with this at a policy level to provide some consistency. 

“Three things come to mind,” Judson said. “The integrity commissioner is also our closed meeting investigator. It’s also my understanding that the provincial Ombudsman provides this service without fee. I don’t know why we’re using a contracted service provider when we can get the service done from another provider for free.”

Judson also said council has never done a request for proposal (RFP) for the integrity commissioner service, adding that council chose a service provider based on the recommendation of the former clerk and CAO.

“I don’t know what the basis was for that selection, but it’s my understanding in speaking to other municipal representatives that there are providers that offer the service on a fixed annual fee basis,” he added. “That’s something we should be looking at in the near future.”

Judson explained that these costs could be avoided in the future. He said that most of the budget from the previous year was consumed by a single complaint that took over 11 months and $36,000 in fees because the Integrity Commissioner recused himself and appointed a second person who then retained Bay Street law firm to undertake that process for over 11 months.

“Just to draw comparison, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act requires that a complaint be brought within six weeks of being discovered and that it be disposed of within I think it’s six months,” Judson said.

Municipal clerk Gabrielle Lecuyer said Judson brought up a point that has already been on her radar.

“It would be my recommendation that we do a formal RFP for the services of an Integrity Commissioner, if that is council’s wishes as a whole,” Lecuyer said.