The District of Lantzville spent nearly $90,000 on legal expenses in 2017.
Jeannie Beauchamp, Lantzville’s director of financial services, said in an e-mailed statement to the News Bulletin that the district had $89,741 in legal expenses last year and there were no current members of council who had their “individual” legal expenses covered by the district.
The district’s budgeted amount for legal expenses last year was $33,000.
Publicly available in-camera minutes released online provide a breakdown of the district’s legal expenses in 2017. According to those minutes, the district spent $27,726 on general expenses, $21,832 on litigation, $17,573 on “local area services,” $9,329 on Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act issues, $1,098 on manufactured home taxation, $344 on employment matters, and $207 on planning and subdivision. An additional $11,639 in expenses was related to bylaw enforcement and review.
Staff declined to comment further on the district’s legal expenses, and Ronald Campbell, the district’s chief administrative officer, said he could not elaborate on the breakdown of legal expenses because the information is confidential and in-camera.
There were two notable civil cases involving Lantzville councillors that took place last year. In March 2017, Lantzville Mayor Colin Haime and councillors Denise Haime and John Coulson launched a civil lawsuit against Jennifer Millbank, Graham Savage and Dave Scott, claiming the former Lantzville councillors engaged in a nearly six-month public campaign to discredit them. However, the case was dropped by the current council members in February of this year.
In late 2016, a group of residents filed a civil lawsuit against Coun. Bob Colclough, claiming he was in conflict when he voted on a number of motions relating to the Lantzville-Nanaimo water agreement and a Lone Tree Properties development known as the Foothills. That case was dropped by the residents in April 2017, a few months after Colclough filed a statement of defence.
Colclough told the News Bulletin that he was really concerned with the amount of money Lantzville has had to spend on legal expenses. He said the district did not cover the legal costs associated with the lawsuit against him.
“It had nothing to do with the district whatsoever. It was 13 individual residents that grouped together to sue me personally. So, nothing was charged to the district at all on that,” Colclough said.
Coun. John Coulson said the case involving him and the Haimes cost the district around $23,000. He said was shocked at how high Lantzville’s legal expenses were last year, calling it “unbelievable.”
“I don’t recall seeing any kind of number like that budgeted for,” he said. “I am stunned.”
Coun. Will Geselbracht said while the district’s legal expenses were not as high as the City of Nanaimo’s, there has been litigation that has taken place, adding that the lawsuit against the former Lantzville councillors was infelicitous.
“It’s unfortunate that particular litigation by the mayor, councillor Haime and councillor Coulson against the former councillors took place,” he said. “I am not going to go beyond that.”
Geselbracht, a lawyer himself, said he couldn’t comment specifically about the district’s legal expenses, but did say that the $17,573 for local service areas was likely due to parcel taxes.
“We got some legal opinions that had to do with legal opinions that we had been collecting [parcel taxes] improperly and we’ve now straightened that out,” he said.