What went on in trusteeship

By Robert Frank

Free at last, Laval’s elected representatives regained control of the city, Dec. 9, after more than six months of provincial trusteeship.

The triumvirate of trustees imposed by Quebec City generally ran smoothly. They oversaw, but left most routine decisions to the city’s elected politicians and civil servants.

The arrangement was not without its clashes, though.

In its report, released last week, trustees Florent Gagné, Sandra Bilodeau and Sylvie Piérard acknowledged that decided to override local authority on some occasions.

Laval’s executive committee, their report revealed, flat out refused, repeatedly, to agree to create a public affairs department for the city. The trustees acknowledged that Laval had traditionally outsourced its communication work to private firms, but chose nonetheless to support demands by the city’s civil service to move the service in-house. 

The trustees also took over absolute control of the city’s hiring and firing, including several key municipal civil servants. They hired 47 new employees during their tenure, including top officials like the city manager and his deputy, the police chief and his deputy as well as the ombudsman.

They dismissed criticism by most mayoral candidates that elected officials should oversee their selection, choosing to leave their own, lasting imprint on Laval’s civil service.

The trustees also fired, suspended and disciplined 32 employees during their mandate.

“The delegates reviewed many employee files to determine if any disciplinary measures needed to be taken. In many of these cases, the delegates consulted labour lawyers and took the necessary decisions,” they reported cryptically.

In addition, it ushered out Laval’s police chief, who had not been accused of any wrongdoing, four months before his announced retirement date, as well as his deputy.

More ominously, the trustees suggested that while alleged corruption in Laval has been addressed, more alleged misdeeds were brought to their attention.

“Some files were given to the trustees to report an alleged instance of collusion,” they said.

They also revealed that after members of the provincial anti-corruption task force met with officials at Laval Technopole – a successful business development group that has attracted billions of investment dollars to Laval and gets most of its budget from the city – they persuaded the trustees to order a deeper audit. 

The city’s auditor general subsequently looked at its 2012 books and found them satisfactory, and Technopole subsequently implemented some ensuing recommendations to improve its contract management and code of ethics. Technopole also provided “additional assurances about the organizations’ real estate transactions.”

Three weeks ago, The Suburban reported that ceo Pierre Desroches would be leaving Technopole when his contract finishes at the end of this month. The city has also eased out several other officials, notably longtime city clerk Guy Collar, who served as chief returning officer during the municipal election. None stand accused of any wrongdoing.

The trustees also indicated that they pressed city legislators to act on a June 25 Parti québécois government decree–three weeks after the province had imposed trusteeship—that implemented flood zones around the island. 

The city had resisted provincial pressure since Quebec adopted its wetland policy in 2005. The trustees reported that they pressed Mayor Marc Demers to move swiftly on the issue after he was elected, Nov. 3. On Nov. 16, he convened a special city council meeting, to ratify Quebec’s rules. The move distressed riverfront property owners, who are worried that the value of their homes will plunge.

Two weeks ago, Vimont MNA Jean Rousselle told The Suburban that the flood zone designation was ill thought-out, and deplored the lack of consideration for Laval homeowners that it entailed.
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