Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Tensions rise at Fort Coulonge council meeting over debt to local business

“You will pay him!” resident demands

Pierre Cyr
Fort Coulonge Sept. 6, 2023
It was a packed house at the Fort Coulonge council meeting last Thursday evening, with 25 concerned citizens in attendance. A particularly hot topic was the town’s refusal to pay an amount of approximately $6,500 to a small Mansfield business owner that provided maintenance services and equipment to the town of Fort Coulonge.
This story dates back to November 2020 when Mayor Allard resigned and Debbie Laporte, then a councillor, was appointed interim mayor until the municipal elections in November 2021. It was during this period that Mr. Joel Romain, at Ms. Laporte’s request, handed over to the city a series of unpaid invoices dating back as far as 2014. Romain demanded no interest on the sums owed and even offered to be open to a settlement. Romain believes that the town owes him the amounts requested, since the services were rendered and it was town employees who came to his business and signed the invoices.
A controversial council vote on the matter took place on May 4, 2022. The mayor, Christine Francoeur, had intentionally excluded herself from the vote, since Mr. Romain is her nephew. The vote ended in a three-three tie, with Councillor Laporte first voting against reimbursing invoices more than three years old and then, as pro-mayor in Francoeur’s absence, also vetoed Councillor Gaétan Graveline’s proposal to reimburse Romain Petit Moteur. This double vote is seen by some citizens and the business owners as an improper use of power.
Mayor Francoeur asserts that council acted on a legal opinion that it was not obliged to pay invoices that were more than three years old, though proof of this legal advice was neither provided to the complainants nor detailed in the council minutes. Councillor Laporte also pointed out that, since 2011, employees have been required to obtain a purchase order (PO) prior to engaging in transactions with merchants. Mr. Romain says he was never officially informed of this requirement. All invoices presented contained the initials of the employee who used Petit Moteur Romain’s services. It appears that this requirement to have a PO was put into effect starting only in 2021, during Laporte’s 11 months as interim mayor.
Romain Petit Moteur co-owner Debbie Laviolette provided a chronology of events in an effort to set the record straight at the council meeting. She highlighted Acting Mayor Laporte’s proposal in 2021 that Romain recoup its $6,500 through the sale of a mower to the town, among other things. Gaby Dubé, a resident of Fort Coulonge, voiced his strong disagreement, telling the council of his intention to start a petition demanding the debt to Petit Moteur Romain be paid. Another resident, Michel Tremblay, was categorical, saying “You will pay him!”
In an interview with the owners, THE EQUITY learned that the couple feels very uncomfortable having to go public to seek justice. They are very touched by the support their cause has received from so many citizens. They are now determined to pursue their efforts to obtain payment of the sum owed by the town, and hope for a rapid and amicable settlement of their case.
“I’ve never seen a council like this, they don’t want to see the population involved,” said Ms. Laviolette, who was herself a Mansfield councillor for 4 years and is also involved with the Fort Coulonge arena committee.
As Mr. Romain has since asked the town to stop coming to his business until they pay their due, town employees are going to Luskville to service their equipment or purchase accessories.
Another hot topic was the town’s decision to purchase a loader for $409,000. Only one bidder participated in the call for tenders. Larry Gagnon and a number of other citizens voiced their disagreement, fearing an increase in municipal taxes and questioning the real effectiveness of the future loader for snow-clearing purposes. The director general said the council doesn’t need an approval from the citizens to purchase the loader. Meanwhile, the town plans to keep the 1998 grader it currently owns, but will not be repairing it, as previously planned.


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