Westlock County could be the subject of a municipal review if council’s plea to Alberta Municipal Affairs is answered.
At their June 28 meeting, councillors voted 6-1 to approach the provincial department and request an organizational review. Only Coun. Mel Kroetsch voted against.
“There’s a certain amount of angst amongst the people who live in Westlock County,” explained reeve Bud Massey.
“I think in order to put that at rest, the best thing we can do is have an independent third-party review.”
The goal is to see a complete review of council, administration and staff.
“The review would look at the things that have went on, the policies that we have, the shortage of those policies … a complete organizational review,” Massey said.
The reeve said with all that has transpired in the past several months, residents deserve answers.
In April, Coun. Dennis Primeau was charged with assault following a physical altercation with Massey in council chambers, a lease agreement for an industrial park lot saw the county lose over $200,000, and a lease/purchase agreement for the Tawatinaw Valley Ski Hill led to the resignation of former councillor Jim Wiese.
Council is also searching for its fifth CAO after Duane Coleman’s recent resignation after only three months on the job.
“The physical assault, the mud-slinging, the personal attacks … that is destroying confidence in Westlock County,” he said.
“It’s more than a few people arguing in council chambers. We are trying to grow our community, we are trying to have economic development, we’re looking for a new CAO and none of these things are positive to attract people to move into our county.”
Municipal Affairs spokesperson Jerry Ward said a municipality can request an inspection, just as residents can through a petition.
In 2015, Thorhild County was the subject of a municipal review, which resulted in 14 ministerial directives, the removal of the CAO and suspension of a councillor.
“It’s the same process that’s followed,” Ward said.
Following the receipt of a request, Municipal Affairs would send staff to complete a preliminary review. Results would determine if a full-scale review is warranted, Ward said.
“If there’s further review required, that is when a consultant is hired,” he said.
According to Municipal Affairs, a review typically includes evaluation of bylaws and key policies, structure of council committees, organizational structure of municipal administration, conduct of a council meeting and councillors, CAO, staff or residents.
Costs of the inspection would be covered by the government.
Massey initially suggested that the county arrange the third-party review independently.
Councillors, however, expressed concern over the potential costs of undertaking the review themselves.
“Why would we not use [Municipal Affairs]? It would be no cost to the ratepayers,” asked Coun. Ray Marquette.
“They would probably be happier, no?”
In November 2014, former county reeve Ken Mead launched a petition to call for a municipal review.
In March 2015 Mead called off the effort after he was only able to collect 900 of 1,600 signatures required to initiate a review.