September 23, 2015

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Alberta Municipal Affairs Thorhild County, Municipal Inspection:

Report Uncovers Similarities

thereisnocoincidence
A recent report commissioned by the municipal affairs department of the province of Alberta into the county of Thorhild has uncovered some startling similarities to recent events in St. Albert.

This report should spark an investigation by the same municipal affairs department appointed investigators to take a long, hard look at very similar actions by both St. Albert city council and administration.

Please read the Global News story below on the report itself, followed by our review of the similarities between the two municipal governments in Thorhild and St. Albert. The complete report
can be found online here.


Alberta Orders Shakeup Of
Thorhild County Government


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From the story: "A report commissioned by the municipal affairs department found laws were not being followed, biased decision making, bad spending practises and poor working relationships among some councillors.

Some examples of poor behaviour included open animosity and personality conflicts between councillors, including an invitation to “settle conflicts outside” — which was taken as a threat to fight.

In what the government is calling a rare move, the department has issued 14 ministerial directives to fix the problems, including ordering the council to revoke the appointment of its chief administrative officer and for one councillor to step down."


Read the full story on Global News.




Should St. Albert Be Under Investigation
By Alberta Municipal Affairs As Well?


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As you can see by the story above, due to citizen’s complaints about irregularities, the Minister of Municipal Affairs appointed an independent consultant to investigate the municipal council of Thorhild.

After the investigation, the Minister has given the county office 14 directives for changes that have to occur.

Some of those matters condemned by the report should sound strangely familiar to the manner in which the municipal government of St. Albert is operated. They are eerily similar to the Thorhild experience and therefore should be of prime interest to local taxpayers. The report raises many questions regarding the actions of our local government.

Consider these two examples:


Conflicts of Interest - In Thorhild, a society called the Concerned Citizens of Thorhild County Society (CCTC) had been set up to oppose the development of a waste management plant in the county. The reeve, a councillor, and a person who ultimately became the CAO were active members of that organization. After the dispute was resolved, this society made a presentation to council asking for reimbursement of legal and other costs associated with opposing the Waste Management project.

The Consultants concluded that “Councillor Larry Sisson has funded the Society, and would be a financial beneficiary to cost reimbursement by Council or Canadian Waste Management. He therefore has a pecuniary interest in this matter.

Section 172(1) of the Municipal Government Act says in part” “When a Councillor has a pecuniary interest in a matter before the Council… the Councillor must, if present: (a) disclose the general nature of the pecuniary interest prior to any discussion on the matter, (d) … leave the room in which the meeting is being held until discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.”

The Investigation concluded that: “Councillor Sisson repeatedly violates section 172(1) of the MGA by: a) failing to leave the room during delegations relating to CCTC’s [ Concerned Citizens of Thorhild County Society (CCTC).] expense reimbursement requests, b) voting on a motion to get a legal opinion on CWM’s obligations with regard to CCTC, and c) voting in favour of Council hearing a matter raised in a notice of motion relating to CCTC’s expense reimbursement. On the last matter, he effectively votes to have the motion heard knowing that the composition of Council will support a matter in which he has a pecuniary interest.”

In St. Albert we have a Mayor who was exposed to be double dipping in relation to his expenses. The mayor insists the dozens of examples were simply 'mistakes'. Councillor Hughes brought a motion to have an independent audit of those expenses. So then as in Thorhild, did mayor Crouse absent himself from the room during discussion in St. Albert and did Crouse also vote on the motion which ultimately defeats the intent of Hughes motion? If he did either, why is this not subject to an investigation by the Department of Municipal Affairs? Did Crouse not also have
a pecuniary interest in this matter? We think these are fair questions and that St. Albert taxpayers deserve an answer from a higher authority.

Hiring Non Qualified Personnel - The Thorhild Report also criticized the hiring of Betty Kolewaski as CAO of the County after the dismissal of their existing CAO Jim Squires. The report noted that:

“Ms. Kolewaski has no previous CAO or municipal administrative experience. The Report further noted: “This is curious, as the job positing specifically stated that applicants should have “previous CAO or progressive senior management experience in a public sector organization, preferably municipal government”. It is also noteworthy that a reason provided to Jim Squire, the former CAO, for his dismissal was that he had “no knowledge of the MGA”. Ms. Kolewaski’s experience was in nursing and healthcare administration.”

The Report concluded that “while Council did not exceed its authority in hiring Ms. Kolewaski, it is our assessment that their decision making in this matter is questionable. Council had a responsibility to make a decision that would not contribute to further division of Council or in the community,
and to recruit an individual with a skill set that matched the position description that was advertised.”

In the St. Albert case, the city originally advertised for a person who was highly qualified as either an Engineer of a Certified Land Use Planner. Then did the CAO unilaterally change the job description and rename the department to fit a revised job description? Former councillor Prefontaine, who had no qualifications as either an engineer or a planner, was accepted for the newly described position. Was this was in violation of the code of conduct for councillors and
did Prefontaine have a skill set that matched the position description that was originally advertised?

Should St. Albert council have acted upon a possible violation of the code of conduct for councillors as well as the revision of the position as advertised?

Isn't the question that should also be asked this: 'If the hiring of a non-qualified person to be the CAO of Thorhild deserves investigation and disapproval by the Department of Municipal Affairs …. should there not also be an investigation of the Prefontaine hiring in the Municipal government of St. Albert?'

The report also recommended that: “Councillors immediately discontinue making negative comments regarding fellow Councillors, Council as a whole or administration to external stakeholders.”

Did our mayor not demonstrate the identical behaviour when he stated to the local newspaper that councillor Hughes was a “do nothing councillor” or when he told the Chamber of Commerce at a New Year Gala that he could not work with two unnamed, but obvious council members?

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Should not St. Albert’s council be held to the same standards and examined by those same consultants?

Are there any citizens in our community concerned enough to step forward and lodge complaints to the minister, citing the Thorhild similarities to St. Albert?

Wouldn’t it be a way of clearing the cloud that has hung over this municipality since the ‘self examination’ of the mayor’s expenses by the CAO and his staff? There are so many important questions that remain unanswered.


READER RESPONSE:

Councillor Weighs In On Prefontaine Hiring

Good Morning:

I noted your story re: Thorhild and comment re: the hiring of Prefontaine in St. Albert.

On Monday’s council meeting I gave Notice of Motion that council direct the city manager to retain a recruiting firm to hire a general manager of planning and engineering with the same criteria in the original direction … a degree in planning or engineering … with another undergraduate degree … minimum of four years experience in municipal or similar discipline.

As most citizens know, the city manager rewrote the criteria to allow Gilles Prefontaine, a sitting councillor who was doing the city manager’s evaluation, to get this high paid job with no experience. Prefontaine continues to sign off as the GM of planning and engineering which is a joke because he does not have the experience and demonstrates that meeting after meeting.

We have lost engineers over this issue and I am demanding that Prefontaine be replaced. My motion was initially ruled out of order by the mayor after listening to the protest of city manager Draper, but relented to bring it forward in camera.

I argue that while we normally leave the hiring and firing up to the city manager, this is such an egregious and deliberate violation of our code of conduct and just plain common sense that council has to step in. People will remember that I ran on a campaign of ‘common sense’.

Councillor Bob Russell
St. Albert


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