Municipal politics in Westlock has certainly been a topic of intense discussion over the past several months and this is both good and bad.
It’s refreshing to see how many residents are following what’s going on and are engaged, but it is obvious that most are not happy with the outcomes. While it’s the councils and councillors that are mostly blamed maybe it’s actually the system that is broken.
We elect people to represent us but they seem to be representing the municipality instead, supporting the CAO’s without question and blaming previous councils for the current problems. It’s a merry-go-round that never stops — when you fall off someone else jumps on and takes your place.
I know, because I was a previous county councillor. In the two councils I sat on, every councillor wanted to do something good for the community and the councillors we worked with from other communities did too, but we were all limited by the process.
Council makes very few decisions of any consequence. You should be able to influence decisions through the budget process, but administration develops the budget and often when you assert your will at budget time you find out six months, or a year later, that administration just ignored your direction.
Because the CAO controls everything, council has no insight into the day-to-day workings of the municipality. A council is just as surprised as the general public when something runs amok and even more frustrated.
Let’s look at a few examples. Westlock County hired a consultant to engage the public in deciding whether the county needed a better communications strategy.
On the surface that seems reasonable. The consultant prepared an online survey and held an open house which I attended.
If one thing came out of that meeting loud and clear it was that not one person at that meeting thought the county should hire more staff to accomplish that goal.
So what happened? The CAO hired a new staff member for the position before council even reviewed the findings of the consultant. How would you like that if you were sitting on council, elected by your peers to make decisions on their behalf?
The Town of Westlock council took a lot of criticism for a misguided taxi bylaw.
While the MGA states that councils should stick to broad policy decisions, the bylaw was written by the bylaw officer that enforces the bylaw. When the obvious shortcomings were exposed, the acting CAO asked the bylaw officer to review his own work.
How ridiculous it that? She then reported to council that the bylaw in question was just as bad as taxi bylaws in other municipalities, so it should not be changed. The town now has a poor policy and is hoping the public forget about it.
Of course the real doozer is the censuring of Coun, Dennis Primeau. This has the CAO’s fingerprints all over it, but councillors get a lot of blame too.
Of course the reason given for censure is the ongoing questions regarding the ski hill, but in my opinion the real reason is his criticism of the CAO.
Every time the CAO is criticized by either a councillor, or a member of the public, he makes himself out that he can do no wrong.
When Mr. Primeau questions whether a development permit is needed to move dirt and build mounds on municipal property he has a valid point.
If any ratepayer needs a development permit to do dirt work on their private property, how can any individual or group NOT need a permit to do dirt work of municipal property.
That defies logic and the CAO loses all credibility in the community by arguing otherwise. I think at this point in time you would be hard pressed to find one ratepayer, outside maybe the current reeve, that has any confidence in this CAO.
Why did this council censure Mr. Primeau and what good can possibly come of it? Censure is reserved for the most serious of consequences.
Recently the City of Ottawa censured a Councillor after several women came forward with serious allegations of sexual misconduct: Mr. Primeau’s crime was questioning and criticizing the CAO. Is he the only councillor that realizes that the CAO is actually the employee of council?
What does it say that our newest councillor, after what, two meetings and with no history of the allegations, voted in favour of this motion.
Unfortunately, this is happening everywhere. I think the mayor of the City of Edmonton, Don Iveson, said it best.
I am paraphrasing here, but he said maybe it’s time administration started listening to the priorities of council instead of the priorities of administration. He had just learned that the city had spent $600 million on consultants over a 10-year period without the knowledge of council.
The system is broken folks. We elect people to represent us, but they can’t because of the restrictions put on them. CAOs seem to have unlimited power — fire one and the next one is just the same. If you think you are frustrated, just try being a councillor.