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What's next for Westlock County?

Inspectors will soon be sweeping the dirt out from under Westlock County’s rug once a municipal inspection gets underway in the next few months.

Inspectors will soon be sweeping the dirt out from under Westlock County’s rug once a municipal inspection gets underway in the next few months.

Municipal Affairs confirmed at the end of November that they would be conducting an inspection, which could take up to nine months from the start until the report lands in the county’s hands — an official start date has not been chosen.

In the meantime, the county has declined to comment, so as not to skew the inspection, chief administrative officer (CAO) Leo Ludwig explained.

Once the municipal inspection gets underway, Jerry Ward, public affairs officer for Municipal Affairs, said inspectors would be looking to see whether the municipality is managed in an “irregular, improper, or improvident manner.”

Under the microscope

Under section 571 of the Municipal Government Act, the scope of the inspection could cover anything related to the county’s management, administration or operation, as well as property assessments.

“An inspection normally includes, but is not limited to, a review and evaluation of bylaws and key policies for adequacy, relevancy, consistency and conformity with legislation,” Ward said.

As well, a number of other issues will be reviewed and evaluated, including council committee structures; the organizational structure of administration; processes and procedures to prepare and review council meetings and meeting minutes; and the municipality’s financial status.

Attendance and conduct at council meetings will also be under the microscope. Interviews with councillors, the CAO, staff and residents might also round out the inspection process.

“If the inspectors find that the municipality is managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner and the minister (Danielle Larivee) agrees, Section 574 of the MGA provides that the minister may, by order, direct the council, the chief administrative officer or a designated officer of the municipality to take any action that the minister considers proper in the circumstances,” Ward said.

End stage

At this point, it is too early to tell what the end stage will look like, but there are several outcomes.

The first is that the inspector will issue recommendations in the report, which council can voluntarily follow.

The second, and more serious outcome is if the report finds the municipality was managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner, the minister can put forth directives that council must abide by within a certain timeframe.

“Directives must be followed or consideration will be given to take further action by the Minister,” Ward said. “This can include additional directives, or in extremely rare circumstances, dismissals.”

This was the case in Thorhild County last year, when then-Minister Deron Bilous directed the dismissal of councillors Wayne Croswell, Larry Sisson, Dan Buryn and CAO Betty Kolewaski.

For now, those councillors will stay on council until a court date is set for a judicial review of the report, which will decide whether the minister acted outside of his authority.