Martin C. Barry
A Chomedey man who has become a self-appointed “watchdog” over the official opposition at Laval city hall had questions about their annual expenses last week at city council’s first meeting of the year, after first raising the issue last fall.
Not satisfied with answer
During one of the monthly city council meetings last October, Natale Polito had asked whether the Action Laval opposition party could provide specific information on its spending and budget allocations.
Chomedey city councillor Aglaia Revelakis, who is currently Action Laval’s sole elected representative, said at the time that the information would become available in the city’s annual budget which was tabled in December.
Responding during the Jan. 12 council meeting to Polito’s complaint that he still didn’t have an answer, Revelakis read out a prepared statement in which she said all the opposition’s expenses are supervised and accounted for by the city’s financial services department. She also noted that the expenses are completely in line with the Quebec municipal affairs ministry’s legal requirements.
Freedom of Information
Polito, who was active as a volunteer with Action Laval during the 2013 election but has since grown disillusioned with the party, made a freedom of information request to the municipal clerk’s office for details on the opposition office’s expenses over the past two years.
Although the opposition has only briefly had more than two elected members on city council, that number was reduced when Councillor Paolo Galati jumped in August 2014 from Action Laval to the governing Mouvement Lavallois. Councillor Michel Trottier decided in July that same year to join the official opposition, but remained only until last fall when he decided to sit again as an independent.
Staff salaries top expenses
According to the document released by the city clerk, the opposition office received a more than 3 per cent allotment increase in 2015, raising its overall budget to $677,600. By far the most outstanding expense was for support personnel salaries: they amounted to more than $420,000 in 2014, and thousands more for social benefits.
Although the opposition councillors each earned a base salary of around $30,000 a year, the report reveals that former chief of staff Jean Desautels’ pay was almost three times greater ($88,000) during the opposition office’s first year. Former Action Laval political attaché Emilio Migliozzi’s salary was $65,000 before he departed.
Gobé was paid $42,700
The four other opposition office staffers’ 2014 salaries ranged from $65,000 to just below $43,000, with Action Laval leader and mayoral candidate Jean-Claude Gobé receiving $42,700 as a “special advisor.” Although some staffers left by the following year, the record shows that those who remained in 2015 saw their remuneration increase slightly or more steeply if they were promoted. While there were seven staff at the opposition office in 2014, there were only six in 2015.
In an interview with the Laval News, Polito said that even though he was ultimately able to get the information, he had hoped to hear it first from Action Laval. “Why are there so many people on the payroll for a one-person show?” he said. “Where is the money going? They’re paying salaries, but what are we getting in return? Where are the benefits for the citizens of Laval? Or are they just paying salaries for something that’s not benefiting the citizens?”
Coupal axed from commissions
In other developments during the Jan. 12 city council meeting, Mayor Marc Demers was forced during the residents’ question period to justify his decision to remove former Mouvement Lavallois councillor Jean Coupal from his position as a member of two council commissions. Coupal recently decided to leave the ML and sit as an independent.
“[Coupal] left because he wanted to be able to speak freely,” said the mayor, while adding that Coupal’s commitment to the two commissions he previously sat on included an oath of secrecy. Demers also suggested that his duties as mayor include making sure that “the right person for the job” was appointed to work on commissions.
Airport shuttle resolution
Councillor Aglaia Revelakis tabled a resolution on behalf of her party calling for the Société de Transport de Laval (STL) to study the possibility of implementing a special shuttle bus between Laval and Montreal International Airport.
Noting that it is currently impossible for Laval residents to get to the airport by any means other than a personal car or by taxi, that the cost of a taxi to the airport is very costly and that the Société de Transport de Montréal (STM) currently offers an airport shuttle service, the motion asks the STL to take a serious look at the issue.
Regarding a proposed zoning change for the preservation of Laval’s Bois-de-l’Équerre urban forest, Sainte-Rose councillor and executive-committee member Virginie Dufour said a by-law for that purpose will only be ready for the next council meeting on Feb. 2. The city will be setting aside 216 hectares of the territory as a protected green space, while another portion would be designated for development.