The beleaguered Chestermere City Council has moved to deny the legitimacy of the findings of a lengthy provincial investigation into its management and is calling on the Alberta government to revoke or restart the inspection, arguing that “the entire process is flawed.”
In a hastily called special meeting Friday, the council emerged from a closed session to adopt a resolution stating that it will accept the draft municipal inspection report, which was compiled through a provincially-ordered investigation of the municipality, ” rejected and opposed”. The resolution passed 4-2, with Mayor Jeff Colvin and council members Mel Foat, Stephen Hanley and Blaine Funk giving the majority approval. Councilors Shannon Dean and Sandy Johal-Watt opposed the motion, while Coun. Ritesh Narayan abstained.
The Council obtained a copy of the draft report under embargo last month, although the province has not yet made its findings public.
On Saturday, the city released a nearly 3,000-word rebuke of the report, claiming it was built on a “lack of evidence and a flawed process.” The Ministry of Municipal Affairs told Postmedia on Friday that it was aware of the council’s move against the inspection.
“We continue to follow the established process and provide procedural fairness for all those directly affected. The inspection report was drawn up by an experienced inspector and meets the conditions indicated in the ministerial order,” said Kayla Gamroth, press secretary to Rebecca Schulz, minister of municipal affairs.
As first reported by Postmedia, the municipal inspection — the first of its kind in Alberta since 2018 — was ordered in May by then-Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver following a preliminary investigation led by the ministry. McIver appointed a third party, municipal advisor George Cuff, to lead the investigation.
The inspection was prompted by multiple allegations of improprieties within city government leveled by council members Dean, Johal-Watt and Narayan — and repeated in dozens of complaints filed by city staff and residents — against their colleagues, Colvin, Foat, Hanley and Funk, who regularly make up the controlling majority on the board. According to the ministerial order, the investigation’s scope included, but was not limited to, the following allegations:
- Board members acting alone and outside of a board decision;
- The complaints process for code of conduct violations;
- Board members performing administrative functions and duties;
- Improper board meeting procedures and conduct;
- Sale of municipal property not in accordance with the Municipal Government Act.
Repeal or redo, says city
In its repudiation of the draft report — posted on its municipally run news website Chestermere Today with no listed author, but apparently written by the city’s chief administrative officers — the city offered two suggestions for Municipal Affairs to move forward: either revoke the inspection ” on the basis that the entire process is flawed and needs to be re-evaluated” or repeat the investigation with an “impartial inspector.”
The city claims it was not given an opportunity to respond and was not given access to review evidence or cross-examine witnesses interviewed during the municipal inspection process. It points to the Public Inquiries Act, alleging that various sections of the legislation were breached by the investigation.
But the province gave the city a chance to counter the report — after ministry officials presented the draft report to council on Nov. 2, they gave the city until Dec. 9 to respond. According to the ministry, the report is not considered complete until all feedback is incorporated and the report is publicly released.
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Despite that, the city said it “refuse(s) to respond” to the report based on “violations of the principles of natural justice and procedural fairness,” in part accusing both Cuff and McIver of bias against the city cherish
“It is well documented that Minister Ric McIver, who initially called for the inspection of the City of Chestermere, has direct family ties to the outgoing Mayor of the City of Chestermere. The inspection was started three months after the outgoing mayor lost the election, which shows a possibility of bias,” the report said. Marshall Chalmers, former mayor of Chestermere, did not run for re-election in 2021.
Cuff, the city said, worked as a consultant with the previous council in 2020 and the current council shortly after they took office in 2021 — the city says both cases contributed to a possible “premeditated bias against the current board.”
The city also claims that the draft report did not provide any evidence related to the five named focuses outlined in the ministerial order.
City claims ‘huge financial costs’ of investigation
The municipal inspection caused tension among residents and staff and had a “large financial cost to the city,” it said.
“We had issues with our audit, our bank, and missed out on getting grants — all because of the inspection,” the city wrote. “The press sensationalized the negative and implied half-truths, creating a disturbing picture for the residents and investors against whom the council and administration are forced to defend on a daily basis.”
Council’s decision to reject the report could still be overturned by a county-appointed supervisor, Official Administrator Douglas Lagore, who was appointed by McIver in September because of what he called “growing dysfunction” among the city’s elected officials . Under the MGA, Lagore has the power to reject council decisions.
Still, the article says the council is “well run and high functioning” and claims a 95 percent unanimous vote rate along with a balanced budget and reduced taxes — although no public budget deliberations have yet taken place for the city’s 2023 budget.
“In any other world, the City of Chestermere would not be seen as a city in need of a municipal inspection,” it said.
“We, the administration of the City of Chestermere, request that Municipal Affairs carefully weigh all information before making future decisions that will fundamentally affect our residents, staff and municipality.”
Friday was the deadline for the city to provide an answer to Municipal Affairs officials. Although the city said it did not respond, it is unclear whether any elected officials responded individually.
The inspection report is progressing and will be publicly released in early 2023, according to the ministry, although it is unclear whether the council’s challenge to the draft report’s validity will change when that happens. When the report is released, Schulz will issue remedial orders.
According to the MGA, if orders resulting from a municipal inspection are not followed, the mayor, councilors or the city’s chief administrators could face further sanctions, including possible dismissal.
Neither the city nor Colvin responded to Postmedia’s request for comment.