Edmonton

Thorhild County councillors to resume work Monday

Three Thorhild County councillors have their jobs back — for at least a week — after winning an injunction to stay the province’s decision to fire them for inappropriate behaviour.

'It’s very disturbing how the province is coming down heavy on us,' reeve Dan Buryn said

Thorhild County council: (from left to right) Shelly Hanasyk, Wayne Croswell, Larry Sisson, Reeve Dan Buryn, Kevin Grumetza. Last week, Croswell, Sisson and Buryn were removed from office. (Thorhild County)

Three members of Thorhild County council have their jobs back, for at least a short time, after winning an injunction to stay the province's decision to fire them for inappropriate behaviour.

On Friday, a judge granted reeve Dan Buryn and councillors Wayne Croswell and Larry Sisson a temporary injunction to stay the ministerial order, after the men showed proof the province recognized their improved behavior. The temporary injunction means the councillors and reeve can return to work for at least the next week.

Buryn said he plans to resume work on Monday.

"There's no choice in it," Buryn said. "We ran for office and we have to serve the public. That's what we're there for. This situation shouldn't hold us back. Our priority is to provide that representation to the public.

"It's very disturbing how the province is coming down heavy on us."

Government forced to intervene

Buryn and the two councillors were removed from office Thursday by Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee after an inspection report found a number of "irregular, improper and improvident" actions that were unable to be resolved. 

"We've been working with them for months on this, providing them support, and despite that, there was a decision to choose to disregard some of those directives," Larivee said. "It's gotten to the point where I've been forced to say that the only way I can restore orderly, responsible government to Thorhild is to remove the three individuals."

The province hired a third party to inspect the workings of the council prompted by a petition circulated by concerned county residents. The 62-page inspection report from Russell Farmer and Associates says one councillor violated conflict of interest rules by not recusing himself from decisions in which he had pecuniary interest.

It's gotten to the point where ... the only way I can restore orderly, responsible government to Thorhild is to remove the three individuals.- Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee

The chief administrative officer who had personal ties to two of the councillors was hired even though she lacked the required experience, the report adds.

Councillors awarded a contract to demolish a vacant school to the janitor, without putting it out to tender. Instead of getting a company experienced in dealing with hazardous waste, the county was planning an open pit burn. That changed after Alberta Environment stepped in.

There were also concerns that confidential issues discussed in-camera were leaked to people in the community.

Until Friday's temporary injunction to stay the government's order, the decision meant the five-person council would no longer have enough members to make decisions until a byelection was held within 90 days. In the meantime, Larivee had appointed an official administrator to run the county.

'The truth will be shown' at judicial review hearing, Buryn said

But Buryn said a hearing for a judicial review next week will prove the inspection report was selective and defamatory. Buryn said he believes the government is trying to stop the judicial review from happening.

He said he has 40 concerns with the report, including the fact that that he was fired "spontaneously" when the minister said they were "doing just fine."

"The flaws will be exposed, and the truth will be shown," Buryn said. 

Buryn said the trouble in the county began after a "paradigm shift" took place after an election in 2013.

"... certain individuals did not like the shift and they're doing anything and everything they can to upset this council," Buryn said.

"It's very unfortunate, it's been economically devastating to the county, we've lost out on development."

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