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Payments to former Fort Smith administrator under scrutiny

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, August 24, 2009

THEBACHA/FORT SMITH - Details are starting to emerge about the controversial departure of Fort Smith's former senior administrative officer Roy Scott.

Those details reportedly include three severance cheques written to Scott totalling $240,000 between 2000 and 2005. The information, contained in a preliminary investigation by an accountant, has been published by The Slave River Journal, a community newspaper in Fort Smith.

The April report from Ashton Chartered Accountants of Hay River stated that those payments were in accordance with contracts in place at the time.

However, it also noted it is questionable whether the former senior administrative officer (SAO) should have been entitled to them since there had not been any termination of services during that period.

The accountant's report, as detailed by The Slave River Journal, also noted signing bonus cheques to Scott - $20,641.75 in 2001 and $140,000 in 2006.

Up until the time of his suspension in March and his dismissal in early May, Scott had worked for the town for 16 years, during which time he had a series of contracts with the municipality.

A number of other curious payments to Scott were also listed from the accountant's report in The Slave River Journal story, including:

-$52,842 in 2002 for education leave that was never taken;

-regular salary payments in 2002 and 2003 that were in excess of contract amounts by about $11,500;

-RRSP payments $2,800 higher than a contract stipulated.

The accountant stated that council as a whole had not approved the majority of payments over the years, but at least one member of council, including the mayor, signed the cheques.

When contacted at his new job as administrator with the District of 100 Mile House in British Columbia, Scott offered "no comment whatsoever" when asked about the reported payments and his dismissal as Fort Smith's SAO.

Mayor Peter Martselos acknowledged some people in Fort Smith are concerned because they feel money is missing from the town.

"My information from the new SAO and the accountants is there is no money missing," he said.

However, he would not specifically discuss the payments as detailed in the media, since Scott may eventually take the town to court for wrongful dismissal.

While some residents of Fort Smith are concerned about the situation, the majority want the town to move on, according to Martselos.

Ib Kristensen, a long-time resident of Fort Smith and a former councillor, said there is a lot of concern among residents.

"There are no answers from town hall to satisfy people's curiosity about what's going on," he said. "People have a very negative opinion of politics in our town."

Kristensen - a 75-year-old who has lived in Fort Smith for almost four decades - noted he would not describe himself as furious over the situation, but rather as saddened.

The mayor said the town plans to hold a financial review to clear the air once and for all. But Martselos said the town's new SAO and its accountants don't believe a forensic audit is necessary, since it will cost much more than a review.

"A review will cost less and produce the same results," he said, adding it will identify any irregularities so they can be corrected.

However, town council has established a three-person committee to consider disciplinary action against Coun. Brenda Johnson for allegedly revealing information from in-camera meetings in a media interview about Scott's dismissal.

"They're going to come up with disciplinary recommendations," Martselos said, adding that will likely happen this week.

In an Aug. 14 news release, council stated its members are bound by statutory obligations and a code of ethical conduct to prevent disclosure of matters heard in camera. Johnson initially brought information to the attention of council that led to Scott's dismissal.

In-camera meetings in Fort Smith were the subject of a recent directive from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA).

The department advised the town to revise a bylaw it passed in June because it did not comply to the Cities, Towns and Villages Act.

MACA objected to the bylaw stating that an in-camera meeting could be held on "any other matter which council or it committees agree, by resolution, to discuss at an in-camera meeting."

That was deemed to be too broad a definition that could allow council to go in camera for just about anything.