Fighting Town Hall – part II

We are pleased to post here the second part of the submission from Mr. Becker on the Town’s secrecy concerning Mr. Brideau’s overly generous contract terms and the non-disclosure of the closing sentence of the “Stead letter”.

“The Town closed the barn doors after the horse got out.” (Part II)

Lutz E. Becker

(Please read Part I: “The court case: Lutz E. Becker vs. Robert A. Stead and the Town of Wolfville” first; hard copies were distributed throughout our Town and can be viewed on www.mud-creek-news.ca or Wolfville watch

If it was the intention of Stead’s letter to Brideau (“the Stead letter”), dated Feb. 15, 2007, to change a number of provisions of Brideau’s original employment contract by favoring him after a close and more than 10-year-working-relationship at Town Hall, he finally succeeded on Jan. 18, 2010.

On Jan. 18, 2010 and during the official public Council meeting a drafted resolution regarding “the Stead letter“ with changes to salary and pension contribution benefits four years in advance was read aloud by Deputy Mayor Simpson; in part his prepared statement included a kind of introduction to the Resolution. The Resolution was then passed unanimously.

At a first glance this meant to me that “the Stead letter” of 2007 was made proper and “legal” retroactively in 2010.

The written introduction part of the Resolution shows some very interesting but questionable points regarding Stead’s and the Council’s perception on how the Town’s “improper” decisions in the past can be made legally binding.

This introduction/resolution was filed with the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia on Jan. 19, 2010. It reads under point 4 as follows:

“The amendments to the financial component of the CAO’s Employment Contract for the fiscal year 2007-2008 were included in and ratified by the Town’s annual budget for that year, approved by Resolution of Town Council on May 20, 2007.”

In the introduction/resolution points 5 and 6 are phrased similar to the above point 4. Except, they are made out for the fiscal years 2008-09 and 2009-10, approved by Resolutions of Town Council on May 20, 2008 and June 22, 2009.

It is interesting to note that this new Resolution does not refer to “the Stead letter” as a contract or amendment to Brideau’s employment contract, but as “amendments to the financial components”. The Town’s lawyers did not want the Court to view “the Stead letter” as a separate “contract” or “amendment to the contract”. By listening to Justice Warner’s comments it was clear that he was not buying this view. He kept on referring to “the Stead letter” as a “contract”.

To my court case this Resolution meant that the “ammunition” in my claims had been eliminated. What could I expect to get out of this court case now and under these newly changed circumstances? This Resolution now would help to “cure” all mistakes and “illegalities”. Regardless, it doesn’t change or erase the facts of what was done in the past. (“The Town closed the barn doors ……”)

I regard the legal arguments in the introduction/resolution as weak and non-winning in court to counter my claims against “the Stead letter” and the Council‘s actions or non-actions, but nevertheless they are prepared legal arguments.

The details about Brideau’s salary and pension plan increases can nowhere be found in the approved and published budgets and I doubt very much that these particular items were ever discussed and/or fully understood or questioned during the annual preparation sessions of the budget prior to Council’s approval.

And if such summarizing and generalized budget resolutions for the years 2007, 2008 and 2009 will make improper decisions like “the Stead letter” legal, why was there a need for the Resolution on the Brideau issue as motioned to the Council and passed on Jan. 18, 2010?

These prepared legal arguments may have served as a short term gain in the pending court case to cover the “mistakes” of Stead and the Council, but in the long run they open up a huge can of worms.

What should Wolfville tax payers learn from the Town’s attitude and perception?

The yearly budget resolution is a most important one and we, the Wolfville tax payers, should ask for all the details, including the “hidden” binding contracts and agreements, covered up by a summarizing budget process before the Council should be allowed to pass it!

Fictively, Stead’s action and the Council’s attitude could create the following worst case scenario: The Mayor could sign a contract and/or agreement which never ever would be discussed and approved by Council directly but it would be binding for the Town and the Wolfville tax payers because it would be “included in and ratified by the Town’s annual budget for that year,” approved by Council in a summarized and generalized budget resolution. To me this paints a highly possible but unacceptable scenario.

Because of the approved Resolution I decided to offer a settlement. Even if I continued the case, even winning the case, nothing would have changed for Wolfville tax payers. By this Resolution the changes to Brideau’s employment contract remain as outlined in “the Stead letter”. Going on with the case could mean that tax payers might have to foot immense legal bills for almost nothing in return.  My offer was that each party should cover their own costs and in addition I wanted the blacked-out part in “the Stead letter” disclosed. My asking for this disclosure was opposed strongly by the Town‘s lawyers, which makes the whole issue even more suspicious.

After a Special Council Meeting (in camera) I accepted the following one-sentence settlement: “It is ordered that the within application is hereby dismissed without costs to either party.”

During the Special Council Meeting on Feb. 10, 2010 and during discussions about the budget 2010-11 Stead stated that “the concluding costs” of this Judicial Review of Mr. Becker would be “about 17 grand”. He then said: “And so we should keep those kinds of things in mind when we deal with what might be considered by some vexatious or frivolous.”

Stead would be very well advised to stop making statements like this in public. Whoever considers my case vexatious or frivolous is totally wrong and should better listen on the Court’s audio-CD what Justice Warner said during the preliminary proceedings about possible merits of my case or read his quoted comments in this year’s No. 2 edition of the Mud Creek News.

Trying to shift the blame does not eliminate the fact that the Town wasted tax payers’ money. My court case would not have been filed if Stead and the Council would have reacted in a different way. All Town officials knew about this problem since May 2008. All chose to ignore all questions raised by me and Mr. David A. Daniels even during a Council meeting and in writing and distributed to the public at the Wolfville Post Office as well.

Why this Resolution was not done in 2008, after I revealed that there was a problem, could be called either sloppiness, or stupidity, or refusal to admit “mistakes” made by Stead and the Council, or a combination of all three.

What a farce to believe that Stead and the Councillors understand the meaning of accountability, transparency and public participation and who should govern and how to govern our municipality! They seem to thrive on secrecy and how to waste tax payers’ money and not their own.

It is a pity that the next election is about 2.5 years away.

We wonder if this issue came up at the retreat which the mayor and Council were on this weekend, where it is said they went to mull over what to do about the Wolfville school issue(s). Now that they are presumably back from their getaway perhaps they will be ready to explain why they have been, and continue to be, so generous to Mr. Brideau and what is so secret in that last sentence that it must be kept from taxpayers’ eyes at all costs.

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