| Posted: Tuesday, Dec 11, 2012 06:45 pm
In a move that stunned one St. Albert city councillor, the city has fired Nancy Abrahamson, the well-respected director of the Northern Alberta International Children's Festival.
Abrahamson had worked at the festival for close to 15 years, starting as an organizer and working her way up to development co-ordinator, festival manager and finally artistic director.
The move came as a complete surprise to Coun. Roger Lemieux.
"Shock," he said of his reaction. "She was part of St. Albert Place like paint on walls. She was a tremendous person. I'd see her every day and she was always smiles, smiles, smiles. In the five years I've known her, I've never seen her tarnished in any way."
Abrahamson's firing caught many of her co-workers, peers and colleagues off-guard. Many co-workers refused to discuss the issue when contacted.
"I was just as shocked as when (business and tourism director) Larry Horncastle was let go (last year)," Lemieux added. "We'll see if there was any justification or not, and if it becomes a political matter."
Mayor Nolan Crouse said he was first notified last Thursday that Chris Jardine, the city's general manager of community and protective services, had some concerns about Abrahamson and was reviewing her files.
"On Saturday morning I found out Chris had let her go," Crouse said. "His office had decided to make a decision to move on without her and we spent one minute talking about it," Crouse said.
The mayor added he then sent a short e-mail to city councillors notifying them of the change.
"We (council) didn't ask for details," Crouse added. "The Freedom of Information Act doesn't allow the public access to private records and we are part of the public. The council doesn't have the right to go in without going through the Freedom of Information Act."
Jardine declined an interview when requested.
Abrahamson was responsible for heading a five-day children's cultural festival that attracted about 60,000 visitors annually. Much of her job throughout the year was fundraising and attracting national sponsors such as Tim Hortons, Enmax, Pattison and Save-on-Foods to subsidize the festival's $1.3 million budget.
Crouse emphasized that Abrahamson's contribution shouldn't be lost in the wake of her dismissal.
"Nancy has been the face of the children's festival for many years and she's done an outstanding job," Crouse said. "The way she brings in volunteers, rallies sponsors and brings the entire community together is outstanding and it cannot get lost in this. Nancy in my opinion has been so committed to the children's festival that it can't go unnoticed."
Abrahamson couldn't be reached for comment.
Editor's note: In the original version of this story, Coun. Roger Lemieux said that Abrahamson's firing left him as shocked as when city manager Bill Holtby was fired last year. Lemieux has since clarified that he'd meant to compare the current situation to last year's firing of Larry Horncastle, the former director of business and tourism development.