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Final Westlock County meeting sees senior admin walk out

CAO to launch health and safety investigation after admin asks for Coun. Dennis Primeau to be removed
Kay Spiess profile pic 1
Westlock County CAO Kay Spiess said the leadership walk-out at the Oct. 12 county meeting was intended to “send a message” to current and incoming councillors.

WESTLOCK – Senior Westlock County administration walked out of the final council meeting before the Oct. 18 election citing “disrespectful” and “out-of-order actions” from Coun. Dennis Primeau, who they asked to have physically removed from the building.

The meeting, which began at 9 a.m., Oct. 12, lasted only a handful of minutes before planning and community services director Laurie Strutt asked council to remove Primeau, who had started the session by asking council to delete “contract discussion” from the in-camera agenda, a motion council eventually voted 1-5 against. The contract discussion was about CAO Kay Spiess — council did discuss the contract but made no motions following the in-camera portion of the meeting.

“I want to respectfully ask council to ask Coun. Dennis Primeau to leave the building. I don’t feel safe and I don’t think any employees in this building feels safe with his presence here,” said Strutt. “He’s too negative. I can’t sit here and listen to his remarks made about staff and CAO. I can’t do that.”

CAO Kay Spiess supported the request saying, “There are some very disrespectful and out-of-order actions that happened on Friday specifically towards myself and also towards my staff. And I don’t think it’s appropriate that he remains.” Finance director Peggy Hardinge, sitting to Spiess’ right at the meeting, also joined the walk out.

Primeau, a two-term Division 7 councillor who wasn’t seeking re-election, had no issue with council taking a vote on his removal. Ultimately, the meeting was paused for close to an hour as administration contacted Municipal Affairs and reviewed the county’s code of conduct bylaw. County legislative officer Dianne Johnston said that under their code of conduct bylaw, “there was no authority for us to ask a councillor to leave the building (or) leave the meeting.”

“If that’s the will of council to vote on removing a councillor, then you need to vote on it and I’ll ask for a recorded vote on it,” said Primeau, who was censured for six months in the fall of 2019 under the county’s code of conduct bylaw.

When the meeting restarted around 10 a.m., Spiess and senior admin rejoined online from her office. Spiess went on to say that Primeau was involved in “some unethical events” in the days leading up the meeting which were “unacceptable” by administration and triggered a health and safety investigation. In a follow-up interview Spiess said that investigation is “uncharted waters” for the municipality and they’ll go through the appropriate steps, which may ultimately lead to a third-party investigation.

“If the said councillor is not able to be physically removed from the room, senior leadership has decided to remove ourselves from the room. We will be Zooming in from my office in order to get through this meeting and there will be an ongoing investigation after that,” said Spiess at the meeting.

In a follow-up interview Spiess said the leadership walk-out was intended to “send a message” to current and incoming councillors.

“We’re in 2021 and treating people disrespectfully both outside the workplace and in the workplace is not tolerated,” said Spiess. “Our leadership team standing up and walking up was to send a message to not only to existing councillors, but those who are running that there is a level of respect we require.”

Hours after the meeting reeve Jared Stitsen said he felt for staff who have gone through the ringer of late, adding it was a “disheartening” way to end their four-year mandate.

“I really feel for our staff who have been under a lot of pressure and receiving abuse in and outside the office. It’s really disheartening to see this happening,” said Stitsen. “Really it’s unacceptable.”

George Blais,

George Blais

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