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Mayor of scandal-hit town steps down for health reasons

Even the quaintest towns in Quebec aren't immune from police probes, city-hall intrigue and mayoral resignations these days.

Take the case of Hudson, population 5,000. The leafy western suburb of Montreal, known as a community-minded enclave and the hometown of late New Democratic leader Jack Layton, is undergoing its own junior version of the scandals that have rocked big-city neighbours Montreal and Laval.

First, the town uncovered apparent administrative errors involving pay to 36 municipal employees. After an internal audit, it concluded that funds had been misappropriated and it called in the Sûreté du Québec. Police are looking into "alleged fraud," the town says. Then, at this month's council meeting, it came to light that 315 business and residential taxpayers had failed to pay their taxes for years, to the tune of $1.2-million.

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Unsettling matters further, on Tuesday the town's mayor, Michael Elliott, announced his resignation. It was easy to miss the news, since Montreal mayor Michael Applebaum stepped down the same day to face 14 criminal counts of fraud, conspiracy, breach of trust and municipal corruption involving two real-estate deals in his former borough.

In the case of Mr. Elliott, he says he called it quits for personal and health reasons.

"I had open heart surgery last year, and the kind of stress the council has been under in the last three or four months has been a little over the top," Mr. Elliott told the Montreal Gazette.

The 72-year-old mayor, who is fond of calling Hudson "the best little town in Canada," said he would return to work as a carpenter.

While the turmoil may pale next to big-city Montreal, which has lost two mayors in seven months, or Laval, which is under trusteeship and its former mayor facing charges of running a criminal organization, the case of Hudson is still troubling for local residents. To many, it seems that Hudson is the last place you'd expect a possible fraud scandal.

"Everybody's in denial. Everybody's in shock," city Councillor Diane Piacente said on Wednesday. "Here is a quiet little town and you have all these irregularities. It might be more than we bargained for," she said. But she insisted that the town is doing its best to get the city back on track. "It's nothing that can't be corrected."

The town issued a press released late Wednesday saying it will elect an interim mayor and will press on to address its problems.

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"The events give a greater sense of meaning to Hudson's motto of noblesse oblige ," it said, "reminding us that with power comes responsibility."

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About the Author

Ingrid Peritz has been a Montreal-based correspondent for The Globe and Mail since 1998. Her reporting on the plight of Canadians suffering from the damaging effects of the drug thalidomide helped victims obtain federal compensation and earned The Globe and Mail a National Newspaper Award, Canadian Journalism Foundation award, and the Michener Award for public service. More

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