April 13th, 2024

Councillors say rules prevent more details

By COLLIN GALLANT on April 3, 2024.

Councillors attend a committee of the whole meeting at city hall on March 25.--NEWS PHOTO BRENDAN MILLER

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Seven city councillors who voted to censure Mayor Linnsie Clark say legislation also prevents them revealing more detail about their deliberations or answering accusations about wrongdoing at city hall.

Clark has also posed the controversy as one of proper administration and following correct process sought by her over corporate changes at city hall under city manager Ann Mitchell and a council code of conduct complaint against Clark.

Clark has said she will seek a judge’s opinion on the complaint and sanctions levelled last week.

She also told reporters at the time that council could vote to release more information from closed meetings but didn’t know what format that information would take.

A letter from the seven councillors sent widely to the media on Monday night states that the group followed a “careful and fair” process available to them by the Alberta Municipal Government Act to remove several key mayoral duties from Clark and reduce her pay for contravening the council code of conduct.

The same act bars them from discussing matters from closed sessions – where deliberations take place under the MGA – until they are revealed in open meetings. General city policy is to not comment on personnel matters, which could apply to the dispute between Clark and Mitchell.

“We also respect the fact that this legislation requires us to keep in confidence matters discussed during closed session of council,” the statement continues. “To uphold that duty, we are unable to respond to, or correct any misstatements, relating to those issues.

“We believe that our decision is, and continues to be, in the best interests of the community … we are focused on moving forward.”

The letter comes after the partial and redacted release of a law firm’s report into the Aug. 21 incident when Clark challenged Mitchell for 10 minutes at open council over process in departmental changes.

The next day, Clark released a lawyer’s letter and statement that she says was a final submission during the complaint investigation in the interest in transparency.

She was asked what more could be made public considering the MGA’s limits on keeping materials presented in closed meetings.

“Council can always vote to make things public,” Clark responded. “But, you’re right, there are a lot of occasions where things happen in closed and that leads to speculation. That’s why we’re trying to move more things into open.

“Their (March 21) decision is public, and as far as I know there wasn’t any other written decision from council. I don’t know how that would be made public at this time.”

A municipal government consultant told the News earlier on Monday that it’s hard to get a clear picture of the conflict because its roots likely date from before an Aug. 21 council meeting.

The investigation process details that only the event or issues cited in the complaint, not other issues, form the basis of sanctions.

Clark’s timeline to investigators lays out a general conflict over several months last year, and timeline of her interactions with Mitchell on the pre-organization.

An interview with Sharps with investigators from Kingsgate Legal suggests she felt council was well informed of the proposed changes and concludes “the mayor never brought her concerns to council.”

A scheduled performance review for Mitchell, hired just six months earlier, was also scheduled for about that time of year, but such items haven’t typically been on agendas at open council meetings in the past.

Closed, or in camera, meetings are not recorded, typically involve minimal note taking and are meant to provide an environment for elected officials to be briefed in full on a variety of issues, plus obtain full disclosure on litigious or financial matters.

Redactions of the report, done by the city’s Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection co-ordinator, cite provincial regulations protecting information held by the city related to closed sessions, advice from officials, with financial or legal matters, or deal with personnel matters.

The letter released Monday is signed by Couns. Robert Dumanowski, Cassi Hider, Darren Hirsch, Allison Knodel, Andy McGrogan, Ramona Robins and Alison Van Dyke.

The two other members of the nine-person council, Sharps and Clark, where the principals in the complaint and didn’t attend deliberations or the council vote on March 21.

Clark told the News she was afforded opportunity to address council before deliberations began in closed session on March 18 but left when discussions began following a regular open meeting.

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