By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Following a preliminary review, the request for a Municipal Inspection into the Town of Coaldale has been declined. A petition requesting the inspection was sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs in December last year. This was following town council declining to initiate the inspection request in September 2020.
A preliminary review was conducted in March 2021.
A spokesperson for Municipal Affairs said while some concerns were identified, officials did not believe the concerns were sufficiently severe to warrant a full inspection of the town.
“We take seriously any requests into municipal governance concerns put forward by Albertans. This is why we initiated a preliminary review following a petition for an inspection by residents in the Town of Coaldale. Municipal inspections are extraordinary measures and are not to be taken lightly. While this review did identify some concerns, we do not believe they are sufficiently severe to warrant a full inspection of the Town of Coaldale,” said McKenzie Kibler, press secretary for Alberta Municipal Affairs and Transportation.
The news, announced last week, was welcomed by Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig.
“When representatives of the citizens group came to council requesting a Municipal Inspection in September 2020, council took the position a Municipal Inspection was an unjustified, unwarranted and unnecessary expense. We expressed the view an inspection would distract both council and town administration from their daily work on behalf of our residents and would be a poor use of tax dollars,” said Craig, in a statement. “The minister’s decision to deny the inspection reinforces and justifies council’s position to deny the initial request for inspection and confirms the findings of the workplace audit. It demonstrates many of the accusations made by the petition organizers were based on misinformation and unsubstantiated rumours.”
Jack Van Rijn, a spokesperson for the group Citizens for a Better Coaldale, who were the driving force behind the petition, expressed disappointment over the decision, noting more than 2,300 Coaldale residents had signed the petition.
In a statement, the group said they were even more disappointed with the provincial government, who they felt were ignoring cries for help, or were telling people to go see a lawyer or the RCMP with their complaints, and felt there was a lack of oversight when it comes to municipal governance.
However, members of the group did believe some good had come from this process, noting due to media publicity, Coaldale residents finally felt like they were being heard. They also noted, in the past six months, the town appeared to be trying to change its ways and public communication has significantly increased.
Additionally, Van Rijn noted Municipal Affairs did acknowledge there were concerns with how the town was being run, as the province had ordered the town to undergo a Municipal Accountability Program (MAP) review.
“While this falls short of a full Municipal Inspection (it) is a start and acknowledges there are concerns with how the town is being run,” said Van Rijn.
A MAP review addresses municipal compliance with legislative requirements. It may be initiated at the minister’s discretion, by request of council or in response to a sufficient petition in accordance with the Municipal Government Act (MGA). They are also mandatory for municipalities with populations under 2,500 people.
Inspections are conducted by an independent third-party contracted by the ministry and may include any matter pertaining to the management, administration or operation of the municipality or any assessment prepared under Part 9 (Property Assessment).
Craig said the town welcomed the opportunity to collaborate with Municipal Affairs under the MAP program to identify strengths and how the town can improve, rather than embark on a time-consuming and expensive inspection.
Craig also noted council had commissioned an independent workplace culture audit last year, which determined accusations of a toxic workplace were unfounded. Town council looks forward to putting this “divisive community issue behind.”
“The enrolment into MAP does not mean the Minister of Municipal Affairs found any issues with governance at the town. It is merely a request for the town to supply a long list of information. They will review what we submit and then let us know if they find any issues or concerns,” said Craig. “We eagerly await their assessment to see if we are implementing best practices or if we need to fill in any gaps. The town has no problems with accepting any constructive criticism or suggestions from a senior level of government.”