June 15th, 2024

Petition to recall mayor will require 40% of total population

By COLLIN GALLANT on October 13, 2023.

Local resident and loud critic of city council Nicole Frey (left) has formally applied to recall Mayor Linnsie Clark, though the petition requires verified voting-age signatures that reach 40 per cent of the total population of Medicine Hat to succeed.--NEWS PHOTOS

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A leading critic of how city council has handled the utility rate debate has officially launched a recall petition to unseat Mayor Linnsie Clark.

Nicole Frey, who started an unofficial petition this summer on the website Change.org to critique and spur council to action, has now formally applied to begin a recall campaign under the Alberta Municipal Government Act.

Notice of the application, dated Oct. 4, was posted on the city’s website, as required, on Thursday.

Frey now faces an early December deadline to collect and verify tens of thousands of names of city voters – as many as 25,000 may be required – for the recall to succeed.

If the hurdle is met, the position is vacated automatically and a byelection called to fill it.

“This is the only way to get a byelection – which is the goal,” said Frey, who heavily criticized council in the summer and has been a leading voice calling for changes to electricity rates. “We chose the mayor because she is the only full-time council member and because she is clearly failing to live up to her promises.”

She told the News on Thursday that even as council and the utility department evaluates new interim rates next week, city hall and elected officials aren’t releasing financial information that was requested by some speakers at a late August public meeting.

That is ahead of council deciding on a interim power rate at Monday’s meeting following a public hearing on the heated subject.

“This is a relatively new provision in the MGA,” Clark said in a brief statement to the News. “As the process runs its course, I’m going to continue to focus on doing the job I was elected to do.”

In early September, council approved $33 million in utility credits be provided to help cover the cost of high bills this summer. A business model review for the power plant is due in the new year.

But that hasn’t stopped all criticism.

Frey and other recall supporters, including restaurant owner Sou Boss, have said they want more information on the power department’s financials and price-setting formula.

This week previous mayor Ted Clugston appeared in media interviews calling the current council term “a municipal train wreck.”

“I don’t know if it’s theatre, a tragedy or a comedy,” he told CHAT News, referring to power prices, city finances, downtown safety and business attraction.

Frey told the News her petition is not being launched in co-ordination with any potential byelection candidates.

“The community called for it,” said Frey, referring to meeting attendees who have since formed a discussion group and will launch a website soon. They helped provide the $500 fee to formally apply under recall legislation.

“It is my name on it, but it is the community’s petition demanding better from not only the mayor, but council and administration, too.”

Frey said the group is also planning to formally request a municipal audit of city operations by Alberta Municipal Affairs – a process that examines a municipality’s procedures. Such an audit was conducted in Redcliff about 10 years ago.

The recall process, created in 2022, could result in the removing of an elected official in the province if conditions are met.

For municipal council members, signatures of eligible voters must total 40 per cent of the population – about 25,000 in the case of Medicine Hat – with witnessed signatures and then statistically verified.

The process can also be applied to recall school board trustees or MLAs, though with slightly different procedures and time lines.

It was successfully applied for the first time this summer as 250 residents in the 500-person Village of Ryley, located between Camrose and Edmonton, recalled the village mayor.

Observers have said the legislation would be hard to apply in larger centres.

Only about 20,000 voters cast a ballot for any mayoral candidate in the 2021 election.

An informal petition launched by Frey in June calling on swifter action by council on a number of issues, including the trap-neuter-release program, utilities and other issues, garnered about 2,800 signatures in the past two months.

Recall petitions can not be filed in the 18 months after an election or in the year leading up to the next general election.

This week’s notice coincides with the two-year anniversary of the Oct. 2021 municipal election. Hatters next go to the polls in scheduled elections in late 2025.

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