Fired Thorhild councillors win 2-month reprieve

A judge has given three Thorhild County officials at least two more months on the job after they were fired by the province last week.

Judge extends injunction against removal until May 13

An Edmonton judge extended an injunction against the removal of Thorhild councillors Larry Sisson (left), Reeve Dan Buryn (centre), Wayne Crosswell Friday. (Trevor Wilson/CBC)

A judge has given three Thorhild County officials at least two more months on the job after they were fired by the province last week. 

The Edmonton Court of Queen's Bench judge Friday extended an injunction against their removal to May 13, saying she needed more time.

"I know there's lots of interest at stake, so that's why I don't want to jump to a decision," said Justice Debbie Yungwirth.  

Last week, a 62-page inspection report outlining several examples of "irregular, improper and improvident" behaviour by the county council prompted Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee to remove Reeve Dan Buryn and councillors Larry Sisson and Wayne Crosswell from office.

The three men are pleased with the judge's decision. 

"It's obvious to the justice (Yungwirth) that there is some serious information that the courts need to hear," Buryn said. 

Larivee said last week her decision came after months of working with council, which ignored directives to "restore orderly, responsible government."

On Friday, Larivee said she stands by the decision to fire the three councillors. 

"Our government has a duty to ensure the Municipal Government Act is being followed, so trust and integrity can be maintained at the local level," she said in a written statement. "I remain confident that I made the right decision to ensure that the residents of Thorhild are served by an orderly, accountable, and professional government."

Lawyer Debbie Bishop argued in court the dismissals came as a complete surprise because two weeks before they were fired, they had received from the minister a letter praising them on making so much progress on the changes she demanded.

"They're very perplexed on what's happened here," Bishop said. "The last letter says you're doing a great job."

Bishop claims the minister acted outside her authority in dismissing the councillors.

Municipal Affairs lawyer Bill Olthuis said: "You've heard one version of the story.  There's another version. The minister isn't just doing this for no reason."

Inspection report was 'rigged'

Outside court, Buryn, Sisson and Crosswell claimed they are victims of a witch hunt that was started by the previous Progressive Conservative government and former PC MLA Jeff Johnson, who represented the Thorhild area.

Crosswell claims Johnson didn't like him, Buryn and Sisson, and sided with the former reeve and council members, as well as the people who started the petition that prompted the inspection. 

"My belief is that this whole inspection report was rigged, the MLA was against us," Crosswell said. 

"Municipal Affairs can manipulate the political climate in every municipality if they so choose through this inspection process," Buryn said.

Buryn said he believes Larivee is being led by civil servants in her department that are sympathetic to the previous government. 

"The minister is embracing a PC bureaucracy that has no loyalty to her," he said. 

The previous PC government ordered the inspection report after a petition circulated by county residents collected 800 names. 

The day after Larivee dismissed the council members, a temporary injunction was granted staying the ministerial order and allowing the three councillors to return to work.

On Thursday, about 50 people rallied in support of the three officials in the hamlet of Thorhild, about 85 km north of Edmonton.

Sisson  said the legal battle is costing thousands of dollars but it's worth it. 

"Justice has to prevail. The truth has to come out. Whatever it costs, I guess, to get the truth. That's what we need."