Thorhild residents to rally for judicial review of council dismissals

Some residents of Thorhild County plan to hold a rally on Thursday to call for a judicial review of a provincial report that prompted the firing of three elected officials and an administrator.

Minister fired three council members last week; case headed to court on Friday

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)

Some residents of Thorhild County plan to hold a rally on Thursday to call for a judicial review of a provincial report that prompted the firing of three elected officials and an administrator.

Kathleen Bruce said she represents a group of local residents who disagree with the findings of a 62-page inspection report from Russell Farmer and Associates that outlined a number of examples of "irregular, improper and improvident" behaviour by the county council.

Armed with that report, Municipal Affairs Minister Danielle Larivee last week removed Reeve Dan Buryn and councillors Larry Sisson and Wayne Crosswell from office.

But Bruce said the report contained "some inaccuracies" and "some false allegations."

"A lady lost her job, and now three councillors are to be dismissed," Bruce said, who regularly attends council meetings. "And it's all based on this inspection report."

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

Temporary injunction granted

A temporary injunction has since been granted, staying the ministerial order and allowing the three men to return to work.

On Friday, the case is scheduled to go to Court of Queen's Bench, where a judge will consider an application for a judicial review and a request for the record of proceedings.

Bruce said the inspection conducted by consultant Russell Farmer did not consult with residents from the other "side of the fence."

"I was told specifically by Mr. Farmer that he had all of the information that was required and he didn't need anything else, and unless I had something new he didn't need to interview myself or anybody else," said Bruce. "How would he know I didn't have anything unless he interviewed me?"

Farmer's report highlighted several concerns. Among them: that the chief administration officer hired by council had personal ties with two councillors, and lacked the required experience. The report also stated that councillors who were unhappy with news coverage by the Redwater Review awarded the county's contract to a Westlock newspaper at an additional cost of $58,000.

"That's absolutely false," said Bruce, who admits council was looking for a paper "that could provide more balanced coverage" but said the contract was never signed.

And while the CAO did not have municipal experience, Bruce said she was well-qualified as an administrator and couldn't help but know everyone in such a small town.

'How can you say personal tie?'

"There's 3,400 people in this county," said Bruce. "I mean, we all know each other here. So how can you say a 'personal tie?' "

Bruce, who said she doesn't have social ties with the three council members removed from office, agreed with the minister's assessment that Thorhild County does not have a responsible, accountable government.

"I think there's huge problems there," said Bruce, adding that dismissing three council members "shows bias because all five were involved in the dysfunction."

She said council should instead work with a facilitator. But if they can't move forward, they should all be removed and an election called.

The rally is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday.

Larivee's press secretary pointed out that the inquiry was sparked by a petition signed by 776 people who asked the minister to undertake an inquiry of both council and its chief administrative officer.

Shannon Greer said the inspection was conducted by an independent third party.

"The inspector reviewed documents, observed council meetings, conducted interviews with key municipal staff and council members, as well as a sample of residents," said Greer.

"It was expected that these individuals would challenge this ruling in court, as they have fought the minister's legal directives consistently since they were first issued. The minister is confident she made the right decision to ensure trust and integrity can be maintained for the residents of Thorhild County."