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RM accused of corruption, fraud

RCMP also investigate allegations of secret surveillance, harassment

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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.

RM of La Broquerie Population: 2,900 people

Location: About 15 minutes' drive southeast of Steinbach

Council: One reeve, elected in 2006, and six councillors, most elected within the last six years.

History: La Broquerie's troubles go way back. In 2005, then-reeve Ken Mantie was locked out of council chambers during a dispute over why a local hotel was getting snow removed from its parking lots by the RM free of charge. That incident, along with many other complaints by residents, sparked an investigation by Auditor General Carol Bellringer that found major problems with the way the RM was run, including con­flicts of interest, shoddy expenses account­ing, poor record-keeping and spotty policies and bylaws. In 2006, just as Bellringer was starting her review, the Coalition for Better Government in La Broquerie fielded a slate of candidates in the civic election. Reeve Marielle Wiebe, Coun. Edwood Oswald and Coun. Ron Hamilton effectively won control of council, fired the chief administrative of­ficer and ultimately hired Lori Wood as CAO. Now, the three coalition members are the main targets of Wood's allegations.

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