Who is guarding the guardians: Big time corruption in secrecy-heavy, backwater towns.

Shakedown for 50% of a company revealed by a  Radio-Canada TV and the Toronto Star joint investigation.

Tom Miller

Tom Miller, the former chief administrative officer of Lamont, Alta., is approached by the Star and Radio-Canada with questions about an alleged kickback scheme. He refused to answer questions. The allegations, which have not been proved in court, are the subject of lawsuits and an RCMP investigation.

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Julian Sher writes in today’s Toronto Star: Intrigue in the oilpatch: Quebec builder who hoped to cash in on Alberta’s oil boom caught in mulitimillion-dollar controversy involving alleged shakedowns, secret recordings and revenge:

Like many Quebec construction developers, Gilles Filiatreault is no stranger to kickbacks and extortion.

But he never expected to find trouble in a small town in Alberta’s industrial heartland eager to cash in on the riches of the oilpatch boom.

Now Filiatreault finds himself embroiled in a multimillion-dollar controversy involving clandestine recordings of alleged shakedowns and revenge, an ongoing RCMP criminal inquiry and a secretive town council forced to call on the province to investigate its activities.

A joint investigation by the Toronto Star and the Radio-Canada TV program Enquête into one Alberta community raises wider questions about transparency in small towns across Canada, where there is often little oversight into how and why money is managed and spent.

Excessive secrecy is well-known flag for wrongdoing.

“More often than not, we don’t know what is going on in these small towns,” says Jim Lightbody, chair of the University of Alberta’s department of political science and an expert in municipal politics. “It’s only when someone’s ox is gored that it becomes public.”

Still, a review of the minutes of town council meetings in recent months shows there are regular sessions behind closed doors in Lamont to discuss “personnel and property” issues — a secrecy that is allowed under provincial legislation, which critics say is open to abuse.

“The problem is that everything city hall does is personnel and land,” says the University of Alberta’s Lightbody. “These small town councils are so used to doing everything in private. Who is guarding the bloody guardians?”

A provincial government investigation into corruption:

Two days later, (Nov. 17, 2011) another secret council meeting — this one lasting almost two hours — concluded with the announcement that the town had requested the provincial Municipal Affairs department inspect “any matters connected with the management, administration and operations immediately.”

“If a town makes the request, something is really amiss,” says municipal affairs expert Jim Lightbody. “That means the problem is really out of hand — the cow pie is on the fan.”

And Mayor Bill Skinner denies former town manager Tom Miller was fired over kickback allegations.

Many believe there are way too many in camera sessions in Simcoe county area municipal governments.

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