Thorhild County reeve, 2 councillors, fired by Alberta government
'The only way I can restore orderly, responsible government to Thorhild is to remove the three,' minister says
The province has fired three members of Thorhild County council after an inspection report found a number of "irregular, improper and improvident" actions that were unable to be resolved.
Reeve Dan Buryn and councillors Larry Sisson and Wayne Crosswell were removed from office Thursday by Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee.
"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 five-person council will no longer have enough members to make decisions until a byelection is held within 90 days. In the meantime, Larivee has appointed an official administrator to run the county.
The inspection report was prompted by a petition circulated by county residents.
Angela Zilinski said she gathered 800 signatures on that petition, asking that the province to get involved.
"I think what people found out is, after they got elected, they found out they aren't the person they thought they are," she said of certain councillors.
In Feburary, the council tried to appoint a new chief administrative officer who was not on a list of qualified candidates shortlisted by a recruiting firm.
Council's candidate was Brian Storseth, the former Conservative MP for Westlock-St. Paul.
Buryn, Croswell and Sisson voted in favour of Storseth's appointment, that was supposed to take effect March 15. However, the contract was never approved because the motion was disallowed by the official administrators.
The 62-page inspection report from Russell Farmer and Associates outlines a number of examples of inappropriate behaviour.
It says one councillor violated conflict of interest rules by not recusing himself from decisions in which he had pecuniary interest.
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.
Also, councillors unhappy with coverage from the Redwater Review, awarded the county's news coverage and distribution contract to a newspaper in Westlock at an additional cost of $58,000.
"Elected officials should not use the power of the public purse as a means to control a free media," the report states.
"Additionally, council had an advertising outlet that existed within the county that met the standard required under the act for advertisement. The expenditure of $58,000 was therefore unnecessary, and represents a failure of council to exercise its fiduciary responsibility."
In response to the report, Deron Bilous, then the minister of municipal affairs, issued a number of directives to councillors in September.
Larivee said the government was hesitant to intervene but they had to take action.
"There were so many individuals in Thorhild who brought this issue to our attention," she said.
"I've had a number of people over the last several months come to me pleading for me for help in that county," she said. "It's an incredibly personal issue. A lot of people are deeply disturbed by the actions that have been taken."
The owner of the local newspaper, which some councillors blacklisted over negative coverage, said some things that happened are not even mentioned in the report.
"They passed a policy to increase the taxes within just this one hamlet, which is represented by one of the dissenting councillors, the old councillors," said Ed Cowley.