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Council mess spills onto streets

Coun. Joanne Peckham had some choice words for Coun. Tim Verhaeghe after he released communications from her.
Coun. Joanne Peckham had some choice words for Coun. Tim Verhaeghe after he released communications from her.
Coun. Joanne Peckham had some choice words for Coun. Tim Verhaeghe after he released communications from her.

Coun. Tim Verhaeghe was walking from the Town of Athabasca's office April 21, after a special council meeting had been called to discuss the $400,000 off-site levy being imposed on the new school project. He went to the office after the meeting, saying in a later interview that a prior work commitment kept him out of town and he did not know if it was still running.

Coun. Joanne Peckham was standing outside with other councillors when he appeared.

ìWhy did you do that? î she said, referring to communications he gave the Advocate.

ìI've got nothing to say to you, î Verhaeghe said, walking away from her.

ìThat's rude, that's being a little bitch, î Peckham said. ìYou used me for two years Ö He's a bitch. He used me for two years. î

In an interview, Peckham said she was ìmad at him. î

ìI was accosted, î Verhaeghe said. ìIt's very unprofessional to refer to a fellow councillor as ëa little bitch,' which is what Coun. Peckham said. And rather than engage her in debate, I am above potty-mouth talk, so I just simply chose to walk away. î

On April 14, Coun. Verhaeghe provided the Advocate with copies of two correspondences he said were from Peckham - a letter from June 2015 and a text message from August.

Peckham later verified that she did write the letter to Mayor Roger Morrill and Verhaeghe, about experiences at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference. She said she sent a text message to Verhaeghe about a golf tournament in Athabasca in August, noting that it was one of many she sent to him.

ìThere was a few letters, because at one time I did have the confidence of Tim and of Roger, î she said. ìTo be sharing that now - it's hurtful and mean. î

When asked why he handed over the messages, Verhaeghe said it was because he had been asked by the Advocate when he thought council relations started going downhill.

ìYou (Advocate reporter) had asked me before - because this is how, when you and I met - you had asked me before, when I see things starting to go in a downward spiral, î he said. ìThis is when I realized things started going downhill, when I got that text message. And then, I got that letter. And I could see things starting to go down. And also, (it) is a good indication that this has been nothing but a sustained attack against Roger and me. î

To the letter

In the letter, dated June 5, 2015, Peckham states that she was approached by a councillor after she did not ìside î with a group of councillors ìto remove you (the mayor) from your committees î in 2015. She wrote that the councillor was very angry, as were others.

Coun. Nichole Adams said she did not remember a vote in 2015 to remove Morrill from committees, when asked if she was upset when Peckham did not choose to support that.

ìOf course, our council fights all the time, î Adams said. ìWe're always upset at each other. Have you seen our council? What kind of stupid question is that? I'm just being honest. î

ìAnd so I'm not going to comment on a specific instance, îAdams continued. ìObviously, we've all been upset at each other at different times and under different circumstances. That's not news. î

Coun. Tanu Evans said frank discussions - like the one mentioned in the letter - îis something that more of us should do. î

ìI would be extremely pleased to have frank conversations with the mayor and Councillor Verhaeghe, like I do with Councillor Peckham, as it would allow us to all get along better and work in a more cohesive group, î he said.

Coun. Shelly Gurba said she remembered that Peckham had not been in favour of removing the mayor from his committees.

ìI don't know that angry is the word, but disappointed, î she said. ìJust based on what was presented as facts, I think that I just - I was actually quite shocked that it didn't go through. î

Peckham said she did not even have a copy of the letter. She said as far as she knew nothing was ever pursued from it after she gave it to Morrill, and she questions why it is coming to light so many months later.

ìThat's personal stuff, î she said, noting that she thought that by writing the letter, a meeting about it would have been called. ìNothing ever came out of it. î

She also said she did not see what would come of giving the letter to the newspaper.

ìThat's an invasion of my privacy, î she said.

Off message

ìWow - you got a phone text, î Peckham said, when first asked about the events at a golf tournament.

She said she used to regularly text Verhaeghe and she considered him a friend.

ìI've never edited myself when texting any friend, î she said. ìThat's just me. I don't edit myself, and he was a colleague. î

The copy of the message provided to the Advocate, dated Aug. 27, 2015, states that Peckham drove Coun. Gurba home after Gurba had been drinking at a tournament.

Gurba said that she had had drinks at the golf course, but was not drunk.

ìI would say no, î she said. ìIf someone wants to say that, I would actually have to challenge them. I was nowhere near inebriated, so whoever's putting that out is actually, totally false, and I take exception to it. î