Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ratepayers letter to Municipal Affairs + Russell Farmer

Crowsnest Pass Ratepayers Association

General Delivery
Hillcrest Mines, Alberta - TOK lCO

May 24, 2013

Tim Morrison, Chief of Staff Department of Municipal Affairs Chris Hutchison, Principal Russell Farmer & Associates Consulting Ltd.

Dear Mr. Morrison and Mr. Hutchison,

Regarding our petition, we did not petition the Minister to remove our sitting Council because our hope was the Municipal Review itself would be enough to bring about better governance. Unfortunately, with the review well under way, it is now clear our hopes have been misplaced.

Our Council and administration keep behaving as if the petition never took place and the concerns of the petitioners are all but ignored. The Municipal Newsletter, copy included,has been used to tell us to, more or less, be quiet while important work is being done.

It appears our sitting Council, and the administration, are of the opinion that the problems in which they find themselves with the voters are mainly due to poor communication. The petitioners, on the other hand, strongly feel that the real problems are not due to poor communication. We are convinced, now more than ever, the real problem is poor municipal governance.

While change is always difficult, change should not be used as an excuse for poor governance. If, as the municipal newsletter claims, our council is developing a policy driven governance,then the proper policies, first and foremost, must be applied to Council work. It appears to us our Council is prepared to bend, or stretch, policies when it comes to its own behaviour.

The criticism most often heard on the street is still about the lack of open debate in council. Decisions were, and are, made without the ratepayers understanding the rationale for these decisions.

Now we learn our Council has been having Secret Meetings, they have conducted these meetings under the name of Administrative Meetings for more than two years. They feel it is alright to have secret meetings and the Privacy Act is the legislation used to support this belief.

There is no provision in our current Procedural By-Law for having secret meetings of the Municipal Council, without minutes taken, and with a quorum of councillors present. There is also no record of a motion being passed to have such Secret Meetings. Using the Privacy Act to justify such secret meetings appears to be taking the Act into an area where it was never meant to go.

A Municipal Council Meeting, with a quorum present, is not a 11Cabinet" or a 11Caucus" or designated committee, or a few public officials debating policy in a relaxed environment.

Our Municipal Council is also our legislative body and it is having Secret Meetings (with a quorum present) outside our Procedural By-Law. This appears to be much the same as if the Alberta Legislature, with a majority of the MLAs present, were having secret meetings at the legislature without anyone keeping minutes. No one would tolerate such behaviour at the Provincial level and the same can be said when it comes down to municipal governance.

Changing the name of the meeting from Administrative Meeting to a CAO Report half way through a Provincial Municipal Audit,with the hope to legitimize these meetings, does not change anything. In fact, if it were not so serious, it would almost be comical.

We feel these Secret Meetings are a serious breach of municipal protocols. The knowledge these meetings taking place also helps us understand why we have witnessed so little debate in open forum. While the CAO claims "he seeks no input, direction nor do we develop strategy," he offers no records to back his claims. If no records are kept, imagination wanders. This is not good governance within a public body.

It is also unfortunate our CAO used the name of George Cuff to legitimize the format of these meetings once questions were raised. We are not sure that a respected and experienced municipal expert like Mr. Cuff would have supported such format if he was given, what looks to us, the full context of how these meetings seem to have come about and how these meetings appear to have been held.

These Secret Meetings involving the quorum of council and the lack oftransparency in the decision making process is at the root of our governance problem.

There are many examples of decisions and actions taking place without a transparent council debate and a proper council resolution. A few examples which underline the problem are:

• Municipal review of our electrical system with a possibility of future sale of our municipal assets to Fortis Alberta. The community has been aware such a review has been taking place. When we contacted our CAO about the review, he acknowledged the review. When we asked him if there was a Council debate and resolution to such effect, he replied that it was not necessary because it is in the Strategic Plan. The Strategic Plan is not there to replace processes which normally take place in the administration of a municipality. The Strategic Plan is also very clear about the need for transparency.

• Our community has also been aware that the municipality hired consultants to conduct a forensic audit of our former fire department. While such audits are sometimes required, it is not a common occurrence in a community of our size. These types of audits are very expensive if done right and costs and benefits should be debated. We have enquired of our CAO whether an audit of this type is being undertaken and whether there was a council resolution to that effect. Our CAO replied to us that while such an audit may not be common, there was no council resolution because it was within his administrative purview to order such an audit on his own. It appears that only one part of the municipal operations was singled out for this audit. In the end,we may be faced with expensive and unproductive legal costs. Only a proper debate can bring out both sides to a story.

• Since there was no visible debate on fire department restructuring, we feel that Edmonton may have not been presented with a clear picture of our former fire department. We don't know what was presented, but is not hard to paint an organization in a negative light if enough effort is put into the task. A couple of examples which may have been used were the storage of fireworks in a building constructed for that purpose behind the fire hall or the presence of alcoholic beverages at the fire hall. The alcoholic beverages were kept under lock and key and were mostly leftover from the many charity fund raisers in which the firemen were involved with. Since the liquor store will not take back open case or open bottles, that liquor was being held for future charity events. One can use these two examples to paint a good picture of the fire hall or to paint a bad picture of the fire hall; it all depends on who needs the picture.

• We don't know who called the police about the fireworks being stored in a purpose built building behind the fire hall, but it is clear to the community that the removal of the fireworks could have been affected in a more mature manner by everyone involved. After all, these fireworks were purchased through the joint effort of the municipality and the fire department and were stored on municipal premises with the full knowledge of municipal authorities.

The current forensic audit of the fire department can be viewed through the same lens as the calling of the RCMP to the Fireworks storage building. When an organization as large as our municipality finds problems in only one area of its operations, it seems to us the question should always be asked whether other areas of operations are also a contributing factor to these problems. This is why escalating such issues into the legal arena usually ends up costing a lot of money for legal work.

• We have a recorded instance, as described by Councillor Andrew Saje in his report (attached) where the council discussed something in camera and then subsequently, when they came out of camera, instructed the CAO to take action without an appropriate motion taking place. One can only imagine that the hiring of Calder Batman from Edmonton to give advice on public relations and crisis communications was something that someone wanted to keep off the record; this is really not how things should be done in a small community such as ours. When the news finally came out, the whole affair appeared to us as an unnecessary public relations disaster. Excuses were given why there was no resolution to hire the company, but since there was no budget for this kind of thing, we feel a resolution should have been taken. A policy should not be avoided just because it is inconvenient and appears easy to avoid.

There were many different reasons which led to the petition and we feel our council has failed to address our main concern, which from day one, was a very apparent lack of transparency in council's decision making process. We would like to thank the Minister for granting us the Municipal Inspection. It is still our hope that the review process will allow all of us an opportunity for reflection and, ultimately, lead to better Municipal Governance in the Crowsnest Pass.


William Kovach, Petitioner's Representative

Cc: Myron Thompson
George Cuff
Pass Herald
Pass Promoter
Municipality of CNP council
Lethbridge Herald


Anonymous said...

Had not heard about the liquor.
Probably not a great idea to store liquor in a fire department premise.

Anonymous said...

It was in a storage room under lock and key. Beer gardens were a big fund raiser. Then there were the yak yak comedy and others. Beside the Thunder in the Valley, the firemen gave a lot of money to different projects and charities. Small minds can make hay even in the rain.

Anonymous said...

Liquor, fireworks, whatever, if someone wants a witch hunt, they will find a witch to burn.....and they did, and it sounds like they are looking for a few more.....another case of someone volunteering many hours of their personal time for the betterment of the community, and then finding themselves tied to the stake. That's three cases that I know of. The message I get is......watch how far you stick your neck out....you never know when (or where) the ax will fall!

Anonymous said...

On a much happier mote as sometimes happier things seem to be consistently missed:

Tons of real estate passing hands.


A new bakery opening up in beautiful, awesome Blairmore, yyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyym.... I will be their first customer.

Anonymous said...

Granted they gave a lot to the community, as do other people, but I still would not ever agree to having booze in a firehall. Makes it too handy. And it does not need to be. Whoever organizes the events should take care of the liquor. I do not think firemen organized events on their own. Firehall = booze. NOT, NOT.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so there was liquor on the premise. Why not simply write up a memo stating there is to be no liquor on municipal properties and I am sure the fireman would have removed it.If the fireworks were not stored legally why would you not work with them to get it to code? This was a witch hunt from the get go. And it is still going on with the audit. The question should be why does administration and council have such a big problem with the volunteer fireman? They also have put the Hillcrest fire departments truck into an auction, to make sure that we do not fall back into our old ways when a new council is elected this fall. I still find it very hard to believe that no councillors are against all of these things and yet they are all in favour of 200, 000$ signs.

Anonymous said...

Plus a new business moved in to the old NAPA building

Anonymous said...

I think it also got to the point where the firemen thought they ruled, and would not always listen to Municipality. Heard some were quite militant. So, who knows.

Anonymous said...

It all goes back to the beginning and the Mayor not getting to be the Big Kahuna with TITV. Gives an idea of the mentality of the Mayor and his henchmen. Witch hunt is a mild term for the purge and vendetta. But what goes around usually comes around.

Come October we have a choice. If we think that it this Administration that is bringing in all the "new" business, and worry not about taxes then vote the bums in again. If not turf them out and start anew. Simple choice.

Anonymous said...

It appears someone is spending a lot of taxpayers’ money to prove that what they did was handled correctly.
Anyone with two gray cells knows the Thunder in the Valley, calling the RCMP to the fireworks storage building, and the fire hall restructuring was handled poorly from the start.
One can look at this this way: they blew up a perfectly functioning Fire Department, blackballed the Firemen to Edmonton, when everything fell apart they cried for provincial money, and then, they started to work on the Fire Plan.
After all this, they are Auditing only one municipal department? Why only one, who is in charge of the municipal money and annual audits? Looks like witch hunt on our dime.
Now we have some of them complaining that people are just not volunteering. All the blame should not go to Myron, but to those who told him what to do. Who are the guys on the TWO MAN AGENDA COMMITTEE, whoever heard of something like this? Whoever let them conduct municipal business without proper oversight? The six guys sitting there like a lump on a log.

Anonymous said...

8:35 and 9:39

New bakery that is the bamboo bistro plus black rock pizza moving to the old bridgegate building.
The new bussiness in the Old Napa building is "changes" who were previously in the mall.
All you are seeing is the deck being reshuffled these are not new businesses they are existing bussinesses that are moving from one location to another. Weather it be to buy their own building or for a better deal on rent.

Anonymous said...

So whatever, bakery is still NEW.

Anonymous said...

10:55 Bargain shop just added a section for dish ware would that now be considered a new bussiness

Anonymous said...

I guess it would be if they are hiring staff. Job today for a baker in the new bakery. All good, nothing negative as far as I can tell. Jobs are jobs. There, it is now spelled out.

Anonymous said...

There are a few jobs being created here through the hard work of local entrepreneurs, no thanks to any municipal initiative. The only thing with a lot of municipal input is the Crowsnest Center and the council is learning a little bit on that initiative. Business atmosphere with our council has not been very good from the start. The consultants they brought on board and paid for with the little tax dollars we have contributed big fat zero.

Anonymous said...

8:39, 9:35 10:55 & 11:34

Looks like you are trying to cover a big pile of manure with a few straws. Give it up. If you are trying to convince me, that because of the great leadership of this Mayor and Council, that the Pass is booming.....well it's not working. They behave like sneaky, underhanded dictators, who have their own agendas, and the public be damned. I know I am looking forward to October, and I'll be sure to vote for candidates who give the public a chance to speak, and who will actually listen. I know what I want and like. I've made it this far in life (and doing fairly well thank you,) without some government officials telling me that they need to make this law, and that law and it's all in the name of what's good for me. You can educate me, but when you try to legislate me and do it in the name of my own safety.....scary, scary stuff.

Anonymous said...

RE: There are a few jobs being created here through the hard work of local entrepreneurs

That is usually how it works. I am not sure it is up to council to create jobs. We seem to want the government to do everything nowadays. Then we complain when they do.

Anonymous said...


My municipal government is doing a bunch of things that I don't want, and then telling me, that they know what is best. That's why I'm complaining.

Anonymous said...

08:37:00 AM 2013 This is exactly how it works. This council just forgot this little detail and went on to call on tons of outside consulting help. None of which were any good for the problems we face here in the CNP. Very sad, the last two and a half years can be viewed as lost opportunity.

Anonymous said...

I don't believe they have been any different from any previous council in that regard.

Anonymous said...

They have been the worst council in terms of access and sharing of information in recent memory. The two man agenda committee isolated the council from the community and its concerns. The petition was a direct reaction to this bizarre need to control information.

Anonymous said...

I believe the petition was about getting publicity for a few people.
I have not really seen anything worthwhile that it has accomplished myself.

Anonymous said...

2500 people got a lot of publicity. It has accomplished what it set out to do. The minister granted a review. Very few petitions of this type succeed. You can fool people in Edmonton for a while, but this does not last forever. They have seen incompetence before - and they can recognize incompetence when they see it again.

Anonymous said...

Edmonton recogizing incompetence. Ha ha. too funny