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Open Road NOTEBOOK

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The council of the RM of Springfield, a fast-growing and fairly affluent community, particularly the community of Oakbank, has been dysfunctional since 2006, a host of sources say.

It was hoped newcomers elected to council last year would change that, but it doesn't seem to be the case. After the new council accepted Larry Tetrault's hasty resignation as chief administrator in October, some council members conspired to vote Tetrault back in a month later while a councillor recovered from heart surgery. The rehiring has been ruled invalid under the Municipal Act.

Although the three councillors obviously think highly of Tetrault, hired in 2007, this is not the first time he has been involved in controversy. He was a central figure in a special audit by the auditor general's office of the RM of La Broquerie, where Tetrault was chief administrative officer for 32 years. One veteran of municipal affairs described La Broquerie as "the worst mess" he'd ever seen of RM governance.

Among the auditor general's findings for the period 2003-2006 were:

-- The CAO brought on perceptions of conflict of interest when he and his brothers bought land adjacent to the sewage lagoon, land the RM later purchased to expand the lagoon.

-- The CAO should have removed himself from proceedings when council ruled in favour of building a road to property owned by the CAO and his brothers.

-- The RM provided free snow clearing to an area hotel in which the CAO and two councillors had a financial interest, although the auditor general did not find evidence the three influenced the decision. RM officials also rang up $35,000 in expenses at the hotel in four years, without receipts to support 60 per cent of those expenditures.

-- The CAO charged meals in his expense accounts even where meals were included in registration fees. The CAO and his assistant were also wrong to claim a full-day per diem when they were not required to be away a full day.

-- Interest-free loans to some area businesses were not being collected and the loans to these companies exceeded specified limits.

-- Certain companies were not repaying the RM for paving services and the RM did not take action on overdue accounts. Administrative staff didn't tell council about it.

-- The RM overpaid for cleaning services and did not seek competitive bids.

-- The RM did not keep accurate records of capital project costs.

-- The RM repeatedly gave the province unrealistic projections of balanced budgets that resulted in deficits.

-- Tetrault left the RM of La Broquerie in 2006 and was paid $190,479 in a negotiated settlement, but $40,000 of it was not disclosed publicly.

GRAVESITES -- People who think they might have relatives buried in the historic St. Andrews-on-the-Red cemetery in the RM of St. Andrews should phone Barbara at 338-7483. There are many historical figures buried at the St. Andrews Anglican Church cemetery but also more than 2,400 unmarked graves. There is a move to put names on the unmarked graves for a permanent memorial. Any names submitted will be checked against archived records. People can also donate to the heritage project.

UNSTART YOUR ENGINES -- It's unclear what will happen to plans for a complete ban on ATVs in provincial parks now Bill Blaikie is no longer Manitoba's conservation minister.

ATVs are only allowed during hunting season or on specific ATV trails. Word is Blaikie had no use for the machines and was preparing a complete ban before he retired earlier this year. Dave Chomiak is now conservation minister.

A department spokesman would only say rules on ATVs are being updated as part of a larger review of provincial park regulations.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 5, 2011 A14

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