THE RCMP and Manitoba's ombudsman are investigating allegations of fraud, corruption, secret surveillance and harassment at a rural municipal council previously flagged for widespread problems.
The former top administrator of the Rural Municipality of La Broquerie says a group of town politicians installed hidden surveillance cameras in nearly every room in the town hall to spy on rival councillors, staff and the public and hired a security company to sweep offices for bugs possibly planted by opponents.
Lori Wood, who went on stress leave last summer and was officially fired in February, also says Reeve Marielle Wiebe and two councillors violated many town policies and procedures, as well as provincial legislation, by trying to control information and shut out rival councillors.
"I was controlled in terms of whom I was allowed to report to and associate with, isolated from communicating freely with the rest of council, humiliated and berated in front of co-workers and the public and threatened with job loss or physical harm if I offered any objection to the demands made by" Wiebe and two councillors, alleged Wood.
But, some have raised questions about Wood's credibility. Since leaving La Broquerie, Wood has worked for at least four other towns. She either quit suddenly or was terminated after brief stints in places like Lynn Lake and the RM of Armstrong, where she worked for about two weeks last month before faxing in her resignation.
"She left files here and files there, piled up. We were really disgusted and surprised," said Armstrong Reeve Les Marchak. "She left us in a real bind."
La Broquerie Coun. Ron Hamilton said Wood's allegations against him and his allies are simply bogus.
"I've done absolutely nothing wrong," he said. "We've been above board on everything."
In addition to allegations about secret cameras and harassment, Wood said council engaged in questionable purchasing practices such as buying a truck from a councillor's relative and hiring another councillor's family as janitors without any other bids.
There is also the murky issue of an old, unregistered handgun kept for years in the town hall's vault. In an interview with the Free Press, Wood said, after she found the gun while cleaning out the vault, she was forced to bring it to Wiebe, who kept it.
Wood made the explosive accusations in a letter to MLAs tabled two weeks ago at a committee meeting at the Manitoba legislature. The meeting was convened to review a 2008 investigation by Manitoba's auditor general into the town's spotty administration before the current council was elected.
Following the committee meeting, the Selinger government forwarded Wood's allegations to Steinbach RCMP, who are investigating and interviewed Wood last weekend.
Meanwhile, the Manitoba ombudsman is also investigating, likely sparked by complaints from La Broquerie staff last summer, many of who took sick leave the same time Wood did.
Emerson Tory MLA Cliff Graydon said the Selinger government has allowed problems in La Broquerie to fester for five years, passing around responsibility like a "bouncy ball" while residents continue to wonder if they're getting good government.
At last month's committee meeting, the province's deputy minister of local government said her office is doing more monitoring of municipalities' finances but has no investigative powers to ensure towns are complying with legislation like the Municipal Act.
Auditor general Carol Bellringer, who can investigate, already did in 2008 and isn't in charge of micro-managing the implementation of her recommendations.
Bellringer told MLAs she believes they need a stronger framework to ensure municipalities are properly accountable.