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Coaldale Council tables inspection request

Posted on October 6, 2020 by Sunny South News
Sunny South Photo submitted

By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News

Discussion over a Municipal Inspection request will continue at an October Coaldale town council meeting.

During their regular Sept. 28 meeting, Coaldale town council considered a request to initiate a Municipal Inspection.

The request, which was brought forward during Jack Van Rijn’s delegation on behalf of Citizens for a Better Coaldale, was discussed later in the meeting after Van Rijn had left.

According to the MGA, the purposes of a municipality are “(a) to provide good government, (a.1) to foster the well-being of the environment, (b) to provide services, facilities or other things that, in the opinion of council, are necessary or desirable for all or a part of the municipality, (c) to develop and maintain safe and viable communities, and (d) to work collaboratively with neighbouring municipalities to plan, deliver and fund intermunicipal services”. The MGA also allows for broad bylaw power to allow municipalities to govern how council deems appropriate within the jurisdiction given to them.

“In discharging these powers, councils need to make tough decisions about which initiatives to advance at what pace, and in what manner,” said Kalen Hastings, CAO for the town. “The purpose of an inspection is not to second guess the valid exercise of these powers by duly elected council. On the contrary, the inspection process is authorized under sect. 571 of the Municipal Government Act.” Sect. 571(1) of the MGA states that “The Minister may require any matter connected with the management, administration or operation of any municipality or any assessment prepared under Part 9 (Assessment of Property) to be inspected”. This can be initiated by the Minister’s, on the request of the municipal council or if the Minister receives a sufficient petition requesting the inspection, signed by at least 20 per cent of the electors of the municipality.

Hastings noted that the inspection mandate is to determine whether the municipality is being governed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner, and things take may trigger the inspection include fiscal improprieties, dysfunctional council or administration, toxic workplace and improperly awarded contracts. Municipal inspectors also include areas of improvement in their report, secondary to the process, and they tend to focus on governance, administration, operations and finance.

“In viewing the relevant case law and the content provided in the Municipal Inspection reports of other municipalities, it is clear that municipal inspections do not exist to second guess a council’s strategic plan or capital plans, nor it’s vision or mandate for a community. Those are political elements.”

Municipal inspection reports from 2009-2018 can be found online at https://www.alberta.ca/municipal-inspection-reports.aspx.

Hastings said the timeline for the process can differ depending on vetting and the Minister’s discretion, but they typical take a year, depending on scope. Additionally, from an administrative prospect, it would be “unusual” for the report to be released on the eve or a few months of an election, and the results would likely be published next council term.

According to Hastings, once a valid request is submitted, the Minister of Municipal Affairs would then assess the merits of the request, and a preliminary review will be conducted, which includes interviews with those who made the request, town council and administration, to determine if or the extent of an inspection is warranted, or if a different recourse tool would be more appropriate. If it is recommended an inspection takes place and is granted, an RFP would go out for a consultant. Once the inspector is appointed, they will spend several months gathering data and conducting interviews, before submitting the final report to the minister. Once the report is review, the Minister may issue directives to a municipality regarding concerns raised, and the municipality will have an opportunity to respond to the report and directives. The final report will be posted online and present at a council meeting.

Hastings says the cost or the inspection is generally borne by the municipality, and while the cost may differ depending on the scope of the inspection, they typical run $50-70,000, up to $150,000, plus council and staff time.

Hastings says to his knowledge, town council hasn’t received any data to support claims that the municipality is being managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner.

“In the event such data was provided, there is nothing stopping council from dealing with an issue directly by engaging an expert or consultant to review, report and recommend solutions in a more timely fashion,” said Hastings. “In fact, if there was information that was brought forward, you could deal with it tomorrow. You don’t have to necessarily wait for the time for an inspection process to deal with the matter that comes before your attention.”

However, if there is no data to support such claims, Hastings said it raises the question of is an municipal inspection is the right tool for what is essentially a performance evaluation, and noted they had already conducted a review of their internal processes and are implementing improvements. Council could also put out an RFP for a consultant to conduct a service-level review or efficiency/effectiveness study, to “take it a step forward” in regards to performance management.

Referring to Jack Van Rijn’s presentation to council earlier tin the meeting, Mayor Kim Craig noted that he had talked about dialogue with council, and said in the three years since the 2017 election, he hadn’t had a phone call from Van Rijn to meet or discuss council items. He was proud of the engagement council has done, noting they have responded to people who have reached out and brought up topics of concern to council.

Craig said that every member of council loves Coaldale, and are the victims of “nasty, social media commentary”, and still keep coming in and “showing up for work”.

Craig noted that when they are making decisions or hearing reports from administration in their meetings, a lot of information is “already corporate knowledge” in their minds, and “we don’t necessarily have to ask a stupid question to placate the viewing public that we’re awake”.

Craig said while the letter talked about some controversial projects, it does not state specific concerns, and is not clear where their concerns lie.

“Overall, the difficulty with the letter, presentation and request is that it fails to make a clear case as to why council should agree to the request by the citizens’group to seek an inspection through Municipal Affairs,” said Craig, noting they are more than welcome to do their own submission. “Given the previous political role played by Mr. Van Rijn, identifying concrete concerns would help alleviate the uncertainty as to whether or not this is a politically driven effort. Resolving this uncertainty is especially important for the integrity of this request. As it now stands, based on the information provided, and the comments from my council colleagues, I don’t know what Mr. Van Rijn’s request, on behalf of the citizens for a better coaldale group, if it passes the smell test.”

Van Rijn is a former Coaldale town council member, and had ran again Craig for mayor in the 2017 election.

Craig added he had no fear of a municipal review, and they have nothing to hide. Coun. Bill Chapman noted they could get some things out of municipal inspection if one took place, but inspections weren’t performance reviews, but rather granted by the Minister of Municipal Affairs when there’s evidence of serious infractions committed by a municipality, and he hasn’t encountered any data or spefifics in how council or administration is acting contrary to the MGA.

Members of council expressed concern over the concerns being political in nature, a need to see serious evidence before initiating a review, effect on capital projects and accusations about transparency with the town, and agreed there was no specifics on how they are acting in a irregular, improper or improvident manner. Coun. Briane Simpson, who had conflict of interest allegations raised by CfaBC in regards to Civic Square, said they would be open to hiring a consultant and assess their performance, trim costs and improve performance, but she would like to see the costs and staff time associated with it before doing this. Coun. Roger Hohm said he was not in favour of hiring a consultant, noting that CfaBC is asking for a deeper look within their governance and decision-making. Additionally, it may give them more ammunition against the town, as they could claim that instead of doing a municipal inspection they hired their own consultant and told them what to look for.

However, Hohm said they heard a lot on the subject that meeting, and suggested they table the discussion until their Oct. 13 council meeting, to have a chance to digest what they heard, and requested a copy of Van Rijn’s presentation so they can look at what he wrote and make their own thoughts on it, noting that he was already pushing against what Van Rijn said before he spoke earlier.

Council passed a motion to table the discussion to Oct. 13 in a split 5-2 vote, with Craig and Chapman opposed.

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