Martin C. Barry
In the aftermath of news reports alleging three prominent Action Laval city councillors are in a perceived conflict of interest involving local real-estate dealings, Action Laval has announced the departure from the party’s caucus of city councillors David De Cotis, Paolo Galati and Isabella Tassoni. In developments first revealed by the Journal de Montréal last week, the Montreal daily maintained that former Laval executive-committee vice-president David De Cotis intervened, while still sitting on the committee, in matters involving land development in the district of Auteuil where he owns undeveloped property.
‘Nothing to hide’
“I have nothing to hide,” De Cotis said in a phone interview on Monday with the Laval News, while noting that several e-mails from the city’s e-mail system that were leaked to the media didn’t contain any incriminating evidence or statements.
“My lands and my monetary interests were always declared from day one,” he said. “I wasn’t acting in my interests. A citizen from my district asked me a question and I followed up with the chief of staff.”
De Cotis pointed out soon after Mayor Marc Demers was first elected in 2013, he made it clear that all communications between elected officials and public servants had to first pass through Demers’ chief of staff.
UPAC onto it
According to the daily, Quebec’s UPAC anti-corruption unit has opened a dossier on the matter, while the Laval Police Department has also launched a file. At the heart of the issue is a wooded area in Auteuil where De Cotis and Tassoni own property.
The properties in question are currently unserviced by the city, although potentially valuable to land speculators. And, of course, any decisions on their future are subject to executive-committee and city council approval.
During their investigation spanning several weeks, the Journal claims to have come upon a number of e-mails as well as internal documents from the City of Laval suggesting De Cotis intervened in dossiers involving the land in question.
The Journal also alleges that De Cotis is currently the subject of an inquiry by the Quebec Municipal Commission (CMQ), which is investigating councillors Tassoni and Galati as well.
The newspaper claims the CMQ is looking into Tassoni’s and Galati’s dealings after they allegedly failed to declare pecuniary interests in land or business holdings located in the City of Laval, in violation of provincial and municipal codes of ethics.
While Tassoni and De Cotis both own land in the same wooded area, her father, Joseph Tassoni, is a land developer and construction contractor who, according to the Journal, has expressed an interest in developing land in the area in question.
Although, according to the newspaper, Galati has no land holdings in the area, they say he is under investigation by the CMQ for failing to file a pecuniary declaration on his interest in a real-estate investment holding company.
Galati told the newspaper that he had simply forgotten to file some information in his statement. Tassoni is defending herself similarly, while also claiming that she “recuses” herself from voting on items on the city council agenda when they involve family members’ business dealings. Tassoni’s brothers also own parcels of land in the same area of Auteuil.
De Cotis defends self
For his part, De Cotis acknowledged to the Journal that when he was executive-committee vice-president, he intervened in dossiers involving development of properties in the sector where he owns land, although he maintains he always did it without involving his own interests.
Mayor Demers has remained fairly circumspect in his comments on these developments. However, he said he was aware the situation had been drawn to the attention of the Bureau d’intégrité et d’éthique de Laval-Terrebonne (BIELT), an intermunicipal body overseen by the Laval and Terrebonne police forces with responsibility for monitoring potential ethics problems involving officials in the two cities.
Out until further notice
“We don’t wish to disturb the important work of our colleagues on the municipal council and we fully understand the impact of the situation,” De Cotis, Tassoni and Galati said in a common statement issued by Action Laval.
“That is why, from this moment on, we are withdrawing from the Action Laval caucus and we will be cooperating with the various other agencies involved in order to clarify the situation,” they said.
In the same statement, Action Laval interim-leader Archie Cifelli said he “agreed completely” with the decision made by De Cotis, Tassoni and Galati.
Cifelli defends party
“Action Laval is an honest party, made up of hundreds of men and women, who work together for the well-being of Laval residents,” Cifelli said. “It is very important to take the necessary time to shed light on any allegation, and that is why I accept the decision made by Mr. De Cotis, Mrs. Tassoni and Mr. Galati.”
Cifelli said that neither Action Laval nor the three ex-caucus members would be commenting on the investigations currently underway so as not to add confusion to the situation.
“We are waiting for them to defend their positions,” Cifelli said in an interview this week with The Laval News. “After that we’ll see what we do going forward.”