May 28th, 2024

Group wants city to seek investigation into council dispute

By Collin Gallant on April 13, 2024.

Around a dozen people gather to sign a petition to support Mayor Linnsie Clark ahead of Monday night's regular council meeting at city hall.--NEWS PHOTO BRENDAN MILLER

@MedicineHatNews

A group that called for a provincial audit during last summer’s utility price debate is now asking the city to voluntarily request an investigation into council disputes, while another petition seeks a show of support for Mayor Linnsie Clark.

Municipal Affairs says it’s not prepared to intervene at this point, stating that while residents may not support decisions of local council, an “inspection is a serious intervention that is not undertaken lightly.”

Informally, two residents are now leading signing events to back Clark after she was hit with sanctions set down by council last month, including one in front of city hall during this week’s council meeting.

“Obviously there’s been a breakdown in communications and people have lost trust in city government,” Kym Porter told the News on Monday.

She and fellow petition organizer Cathy McKenzie have called for residents to fill council chambers to show support for Clark while more than 200 signatures had been collected.

They would be delivered to council and members who voted to approve a report that found a breach of council’s code of conduct. The group asks councillors to reverse the penalties that limits the mayor’s interactions with staff and cuts her pay in half, and are now subject to a judicial review.

Porter said the hope is for conciliation between the two sides to allow Clark to “get back to what the citizens elected her to do.”

“Ultimately, the focus here is healing” and there should be a “coming together,” she added.

Apart from this, resident Dan Marion spoke to the issue of council’s apparent split during an unrelated land hearing Monday.

He has asked councillors in correspondence to call for an audit themselves after a petition effort last summer failed to meet hurdles for action from the ministry.

“Something has become disjointed and someone is not following the rules,” Marion told the News on Friday. “A council and mayor are supposed to work together, and that’s clearly not the case.”

Marion was active in the effort last summer that advertised two separate but related petitions after the utility price protests.

One, a recall petition to remove Clark, was offered to residents as signatures were also being collected on a second list to request an inspection of the city’s practices and finances by Municipal Affairs.

Each garnered about 8,000 signatures – less than either required to spur action under provincial law or policy.

The initial effort for an inspection included the support of the Medicine Hat Utility Ratepayers Association, which split with organizers before the recall drive.

Head organizer Sou Boss told the News on Friday her group is not actively working on a petition, but still supports action by the province.

“We’re hoping an inspection will come through with the minister, as we feel it’s absolutely necessary now in light of everything that has happened,” she wrote in an emailed statement. “An operational as well as (financial) audit inspection is a must.”

The Alberta Recall Act requires 40 per cent of a city’s population support to removing an elected official and force a byelection (26,000 in the Hat’s case). Municipal Affairs officials state 20 per cent is a benchmark to spur an audit (about 12,000, locally).

“While the minister is not currently prepared to order a municipal inspection, he would consider such an action should electors of the city be able to meet the established legislative requirements with respect to initiating a petition for a municipal inspection,” reads a statement from the Ministry to the News.

Last year, the Ministry commissioned an audit of the City of Chestermere, which resulted in the removal of Mayor Jeff Colvin, three of six councillors and three administrators appointed by them in a unique “co-CAO” format that investigators say was an attempt to weaken staff authority.

The report found overreach by those elected officials into administrative matters, and said officials failed to correct action laid out in directives from the province.

In late 2023, Minister Ric McIver ordered byelections, installed a top administrator and later also ordered a forensic audit of the Chestermere’s finances going back to the 2021 election.

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