West Nipissing council at standstill, residents losing patience

·4 min read

West Nipissing’s last municipal council meeting lasted less than fifteen minutes. The one before that, held on September 21, ran a little longer, as council went almost 20 minutes before abruptly ending proceedings.

During that meeting, council was unable to pass the agenda—usually one of the first items of council business—before conflict erupted and Mayor Joanne Savage adjourned the meeting.

Their last meeting on October 5—the one that almost ran 15 minutes—ended before any agenda items were raised.

These are difficult times for West Nipissing council, and residents are beginning to voice their frustrations.

Concerned citizens are turning to the Facebook page On s’parle Verner Let’s Talk to express their dissatisfaction with council’s work and behaviour these past few weeks.

There are calls to “dissolve” council for a “fresh start,” and claims that council is not “willing to work together” for the good of constituents.

Council looks like “a bunch of immature kids,” accuses one writer, with no intention of “working together” for the betterment of the community.

One resident takes solace that elections are coming (albeit in the Fall of 2022), providing opportunity “to replace them all.”

What happened? Has West Nipissing council become a “circus” as one resident laments?

During the September 7 council meeting discussion turned to whether councillor Chris Fisher would have to issue an apology to council.

The vote favoured Fisher—no apology was required—but conversation around the table quickly became heated, leading to Councillor Roland Larabie being expelled from the proceedings by Mayor Savage.

In solidarity with Larabie, three councillors also left the meeting (they turned off their cameras as these meetings are still held remotely).

Those three—Fisher, Dan Roveda, and Leo Malette—did not have permission to leave from the chair.

Quorum was broken, the meeting came to a halt, and soon after, plans were hatched to set up another meeting to finish the aborted meeting and proceed with any new business.

That became the September 21 meeting, the one where the agenda was not passed. With no agenda, the meeting ground to a halt.

The October 5 meeting was called to conduct the business overlooked from those past two meetings. However, before that meeting began, it was requested that councillor Larabie apologize for leaving his seat during the September 7 meeting.

He refused, and he also refused to leave the proceedings, so once again the meeting was over before it began.

The day following the meeting, councillor Dan Roveda shared an email from the municipality’s chief administrative officer, Jay Barbeau.

He provided clarification regarding whether a councillor needed to issue an apology for leaving his seat without permission.

After consulting the council’s procedural bylaws, Barbeau explained that councillor Larabie was supposed to issue an apology for breaching council protocol which led to the Mayor asking him to leave.

However, Larabie raised a procedural point “that the request to apologize should have been made prior to allowing him to vote at the September 21st meeting,” Barbeau explained.

Moreover, “the fact that the agenda was not approved does not negate that the meeting took place,” Barbeau informed council “it only indicates that the meeting was adjourned prematurely after the agenda was defeated.”

Therefore, the fact that councillor Larabie participated in that meeting without issuing an apology, would allow him to participate in the October 5 meeting without doing so.

“I was evicted from my chair” on September 7, Larabie said on October 5, “and then on the 21, I participated in the meeting, so as far as I’m concerned, I am participating in this meeting” as well.

“I will not apologize,” he added.

As for the three councillors who left the September 7 meeting without permission, the bylaw allows no provision for them to apologize.

“They do not have to apologize to retake their seats,” Barbeau explained in his letter, adding that this demand for an apology only applies when the presiding officer (the chair, the Mayor) expels someone from the meeting for a breach, or a perceived breach, of conduct, which is what occurred during that Sept. 7 meeting.

Barbeau also offered some “unsolicited advice” to council to close his letter, mentioning that the premature adjournments of both meetings “could have been avoided to allow the corporation’s business to take place.”

For example, the municipality could have “let the record show that the councillors involved refused to apologize” and with that recorded in the minutes, the meeting could have carried on.

Another meeting is planned for later this month, although some residents feel a mediator should intervene to help mend what many perceive to be a council in need of a fix.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, BayToday.ca

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