By Marianne Curtis
The RM of La Broquerie council has released a report from the Ombudsman that was received by council even thought council is still under investigation.
The report acknowledges that the Ombudsman has completed their investigation into administrative issues within the municipality and notified the municipality of their findings. While some issues were resolved to the ombudsman’s satisfaction, she has requested further investigation on others.
“Just to be clear, we did not release a report on our investigation because we are not done,” stated Gail Perry from the Ombudsman’s Office. “If the RM of La Broquerie council released anything, they did it on their own – we are still waiting for responses from the municipality and the investigation is still ongoing so we can not comment.”
Meanwhile, on July 14 during a special meeting of council, the RM of La Broquerie accepted the report in a resolution of council and released it to the public the next day.
“The Council of the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie is pleased with the Ombudsman’s comments and recommendations,” the resolution reads. It goes on to say that council has already identified and addressed some of the administrative concerns as outlined in the report. A recorded vote was taken and deputy reeve Jean Gagnon voted against the resolution of council to accept the letter as the final report.
“I can not comment because the matter is still under investigation by the ombudsman,” stated Gagnon. He added that he doesn’t believe that this was the final report but actually a letter to council. The ombudsman would not comment on that suggestion.
In the letter signed by Manitoba Ombudsman Irene A. Hamilton, four issues were found and the department has requested a response from the municipality. The first issue involves the construction of a new daycare center in La Broquerie. The investigation confirmed that council had approved a building permit for the project “before any applications were made.”
“In our view, by Council granting the “preliminary” Building Permit, it signaled its intent to approve this project regardless of the established processes to be followed. Had there been any objectors to the project, they would perceive that Council had pre-determined the outcome, that this project was going ahead – regardless of whether there were legitimate concerns,” stated the report.
While the Ombudsman was unable to determine if construction began before variances and conditional used permits were in place, they did find that the condition to remove an existing home on the property was not met and told council to enforce the removal as soon as possible.
The letter also told council that they must deal with the matter that Councilor Ed Oswald constructed a barn on rural residential property. Investigation confirmed that Oswald had constructed a dairy barn on rural residential zoned property. The municipality was told to tell the owner to bring the property up to compliance of the zoning bylaws.
The letter also addressed the accusation that favoritism was shown when a penalty was not charged on the building permit even though construction started before a permit was granted.
“Based on our review of all of the information, we were unable to conclusively determine the process used in the issuance of this Permit or why the wrong fee was charged,” the letter noted. “We were unable to obtain clarification regarding why there appear to be two different versions of this Building Permit in existence.”
The ombudsman recognized that the municipality changed their permit fees shortly afterwards would have given the applicant a refund, so they consider the matter of the fees closed.
Thirdly, the ombudsman addressed a Stop Order that should not have been lifted by a councilor. The report noted that the councilor assumed that the stop order was in place due to non-payment of building fees while it was actually in place due to drainage issues. The investigation confirmed that the order should not have been lifted and it was recommended that council address the drainage issues.
Finally, the ombudsman addressed the matter of unauthorized gravel expenditures during a flooding emergency last spring.
“Ultimately, we were unable to determine definitively what transpired,” stated the letter. “There were discrepancies in the information obtained in our interviews.”
The RM of La Broquerie council is expected to respond to the Ombudsman’s recommendations by August 16.