Norman Wells town council dissolved, gov't appoints administrator

The N.W.T. government's decision to appoint an administrator to handle Norman Wells’s business was a 'long time coming,' according to one councillor whose position has been dissolved.

Administrator will complete 'comprehensive performance review' of senior administrative officer

The N.W.T. government has dissolved the town council in Norman Wells and appointed an administrator to handle the town’s business. (The Town of Norman Wells)

The N.W.T. government has dissolved the town council in Norman Wells and appointed an administrator to handle the town's business after receiving complaints about alleged conflicts of interest, breaches of confidentiality and failure to follow legislation and council procedures.

A news release from the Department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) says it has determined that the Town of Norman Wells is "experiencing operational difficulties."

The minister responsible, Caroline Cochrane, has appointed deputy minister Eleanor Young as interim municipal administrator, effective immediately.

Among her objectives, Young will be tasked with completing a "comprehensive performance review" of the senior administrative officer, Catherine Mallon.

A municipal inspection began in July after "numerous complaints were raised with MACA regional staff, including alleged improprieties, conflicts of interest, breaches of confidentiality, and failure to follow legislation and council procedures," reads a summary of the inspection report.

Line becoming blurred

The inspection included a review of financial and administrative records between January 2015 and July 2017, as well as interviews with council members, town staff, former councillors and mayors, community leaders and residents.

Among the inspector's findings was that individual members of council had allegedly been involved in "instances of real or perceived conflicts of interest."

"The municipal inspection concluded that the relationships amongst individual council members and between Council and Town administration has deteriorated to a point that it is causing operational difficulties, and external action is required to resolve the fundamental relationship issues within the municipal corporation," the summary reads.

In an interview with the CBC, Young said there is no evidence that anything illegal was going on, but the "line between administration and governance was becoming blurred."

For example, the inspector found that the Town's budget was brought to the table eight times due to questions and clarifications.

"That is not a typical budget situation for a community," Young said. "There was obviously something going on in terms of decision around that budget that were problematic.

"What we would call good governance was being impacted by this relationship and the challenges that relationship was having."

Legal battles

Earlier this year, CBC reported that a former town clerk was suing the Town of Norman Wells for nearly $372,000 for wrongful dismissal. Karel Meulenbroek said he was one of 19 employees that have been terminated by or resigned from the town in the last two years. He also sued Mallon, the town manager, for $35,000 in a defamation of character claim.

In a countersuit, the town said Meulenbroek was a difficult, disruptive employee who cheated on vacation travel assistance benefits, and generally behaved in an unprofessional manner.

Young said the court battles did not prompt the inspection.

"Putting a community under administration is not a decision that is taken lightly," the statement from MACA read.

The department says it will take about a year for the administrator to complete the work. A regularly scheduled election is expected to take place in October 2018, when a new mayor and council will be elected.

"After that election happens, MACA will continue to work with the community government to transition back to regular business and provide support as it is required."

Long time coming, says former councillor

Lise Dolen, one of the town councillors whose job has been dissolved, says she's not surprised by MACA's decision, but she's disppointed by how long it took to make.

Dolen says council hasn't been able to perform its duties since the inspection began in July.

"I still question how it could take that long," she says. "They are impacting people's lives in this town, they are affecting our actual community, it's just unfathomable."

Dolen said neither the council nor administration have been representing people's best interests in the last couple years.

"I'm very hopeful with this administrator that our town can begin a healing process and our staff can get the support that they require."

With files from Mackenzie Scott, Kate Kyle