St. Albert city councillors have called in the big guns to resolve long-simmering governance issues within the organization.
Five of seven councillors voted in favour of asking the minister of Municipal Affairs to “conduct an inspection into the governance of the City of St. Albert” during the July 4 meeting.
Coun. Cathy Heron, who presented the motion to council, referred to the friction that existed between some councillors and former city manager Patrick Draper and said she had hoped parting ways with him would “put an end to the situation.”
“Sadly, since his departure, nothing has improved,” she said. “The mess has perpetuated.”
She pointed to motions coming from council governing the day-to-day operation of the city, the “tone in some of the departments in city hall,” and hearing some employees fear for their safety coming to work. She added she has heard first-hand some staff have asked for locks to be installed, and that RCMP have had to conduct interviews for the staff’s protection.
“While the actions of some of the members of the public are not the majority opinion, we’ve got to the point where some residents have lost faith in this council,” Heron said.
She added that a Municipal Affairs inspection was the first step in what could, if the minister deems it necessary, become an inquiry that could look at specific accusations of misconduct against councillors or staff.
Councillors Wes Brodhead, Sheena Hughes, Cam MacKay and Bob Russell supported the motion.
Russell, despite being cautioned at the outset of the discussion that the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act required councillors avoid references to specific employees, raised the issue of former Coun. Gilles Prefontaine’s successful application for a senior management position with the city he alleges was created specifically for Prefontaine.
He said he would write a memorandum to Municipal Affairs outlining his concerns with the council and administration, including Prefontaine’s hiring to the position of chief community development officer, an alleged violation of the councillor code of conduct, an alleged violation of the city manager bylaw, and a city lawsuit against a private citizen for allegedly defaming Draper.
“I’m going to raise all of these issues,” he said.
MacKay said he expected members of the public would support the motion, and said an inspection would be a good thing for the city.
“When you recognize a problem and move forward to fix it, that’s a good thing,” he said.
Hughes echoed those sentiments, saying in light of the many controversies this council has dealt with it would be good to have someone impartial look at all the facts and make a determination if anything improper had taken place.
“In the past two and a half years, there have been enough questions and actions that people have questioned that residents have asked for this to occur,” she said.
Brodhead suggested while he fully supports staff and administration and can appreciate the argument interim city manager Chris Jardine and his staff should be left to do their jobs, he doesn’t see any other way for council itself to get back on track.
“I don’t know the path to health for council, short of getting an outside review of this situation,” he said.
Coun. Tim Osborne said he opposed the motion because issues within council should be dealt with within council, and because issues with administration have been resolved by appointing Jardine as interim city manager to replace Draper.
“We’ve been stuck in the past for far too long,” he said. “To me it feels like us refusing to move forward, get on, and let Mr. Jardine deal with running the city.”
Crouse said it was apparent the motion had support of the majority of council, but he hoped he could change some councillors’ minds with a simple caution to be careful what you wish for.
“If in fact Municipal Affairs decides to conduct this, it will probably get a report about next August or September, just in time for an election which will be fascinating,” he said.
He raised his own questions, including which of his colleagues filed freedom of information requests about him without disclosing it.
Crouse suggested no one on council would benefit from someone poring through past videos of council meetings to see colleagues accusing each other of corruption and “calling staff out in various fashion.”
He also suggested some councillors might not be interested in having someone looking at expense reports and attendance at conferences.
“If you want all that, let’s go for it. I just can’t imagine Municipal Affairs is going to want to spend hours and hours going through St. Albert’s videos. Maybe they do,” he said. “But I guarantee it’s not going to happen within a few weeks.”
Point of order
Before the motion itself could even be debated, councillors debated when and how the motion could come forward.
Heron initially gave notice of motion in April. The motion hit the council agenda in late June before she postponed it to early September. Meanwhile Russell made his own motion to come to the July 4 meeting, and Heron subsequently brought her motion forward again.
In the agenda package, the two councillors’ motions were phrased differently.
Both called specifically for an inspection into the affairs of the municipality and “the conduct of a Councillor and an employee or agent of the municipality.”
Heron’s original motion made reference to two sections of the Municipal Government Act. Russell’s motion made specific reference to both the possibility of escalating the inspection to an inquiry and to the hiring process for Prefontaine’s job.
A motion to change the agenda to discuss Russell’s motion first was defeated. Once Heron’s motion passed, Russell declared his motion was moot.