AMHERST – Cumberland County has asked the province to suspend the executive director and board of directors for the Cumberland Regional Development Authority.
In a letter to Economic and Rural Development and Tourism Minister Percy Paris, dated Aug. 13, Warden Keith Hunter said in light of the ombudsman’s recommendations he is seeking a ministerial order to take action to safeguard the assets of the development authority.
“This letter is a formal request for a ministerial order to effect the necessary actions that will ensure the safeguarding of assets of the Cumberland Regional Development Authority, provide integrity to the forensic audit of CRDA, assure the initiatives and projects of CRDA are being governed and managed in the appropriate manner, and assure the public that the province and the municipality are concerned with the proper spending and accountability for public funds,” Hunter said in the letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the Amherst Daily News.
While the province has said it can’t suspend Rhonda Kelly and the board, Hunter said Thursday the county is sticking to its position.
“That position has not changed,” Hunter said. “This is all about accountability. We’re not criticizing CRDA itself because as we said in the letter we want the staff kept on and the work to continue. CRDA is our vehicle for development, especially community development, and they’ve done a good job of it, but we have to be accountable to our citizens for the tax dollars.”
Hunter said he has not spoken to Kelly and its municipal representative, Deputy Warden Gerald Read, has resigned from the board of directors.
“Right now we’re pondering our next step, if there’s going to be a next step,” the warden said. “We’ve done what we figured we had to do. I want to emphasize that Rhonda and CRDA have done excellent work for us, it’s just we need to know where the money has gone.”
Kelly was unavailable for comment on Thursday.
In his response to the county’s request, Service Nova Scotia and Municipal Relations Minister John MacDonell, acting for Paris, said the board has the responsibility under the Regional Community Development Act to take the action requested by the municipality.
“Under the RCDA, the board of each regional development authority is responsible for the oversight and accountability functions of their respective RDA,” MacDonnell said in a letter dated Sept. 6. “It is my expectation that the board, made up of all municipalities under the Cumberland Regional Development Authority use this authority granted to them under this act.”
The minister said it is imperative of the board, in light of the ombudsman’s report, work together to ensure proper internal controls are in place and continue to be monitored prior to the commencement of the forensic audit.
Along with suspending the executive director and the board, the county made several recommendations including the appointment of a department staff member to manage the governance, operations and projects and initiatives of CRDA, appoint a new audit firm to provide project audits and year-end audits for the 2010-11 and 2011-12 fiscal years, secure the premises at 35 Church St. and all records located there and offsite.
The county also wants the province to continue the core operations and major projects being handled by CRDA, pursuant to and conditional to approval of the municipality in which the project relates to and/or is situated.