After much anticipation, Municipal Affairs delivered its inspection report on the City of St. Albert Tuesday afternoon.
The report painted a picture of a city council that was dysfunctional, divided and disharmonious.
“The degree of disharmony is palpable and while it is not always apparent at a public council meeting, some portions of council, committee and in camera meetings have been anything but civil,” George Cuff said in the report.
The report outlined some examples of the dysfunction and provided more than 20 recommendations.
Anyone who has followed council over the past few years has seen the divided nature of this current group – we didn’t need to spend $80,000 to know that. For unexplained reasons, however, Cuff chose not to name names in his report.
Unfortunately for taxpayers, we are not told which councillors acted improperly in the incidents referenced in the report. Perhaps Cuff didn’t wish to influence the election, but this is important information for voters to have. Fortunately, the Gazette has identified councillors involved in some of the incidents from previous reporting. Others were identified this week from Freedom of Information requests.
For example, Cuff writes in the report “a Council member referred in very disparaging language to colleagues on Council in front of a local school audience of Grade 6 children and staff,” but he fails to mention the councillor was Sheena Hughes. Cuff references an Aug. 23, 2016 email from a councillor that threatened a management employee with physical discomfort, but he doesn’t mention that it came from Bob Russell. Taxpayers deserve to know who was responsible for the appalling behaviour.
Except for Mayor Nolan Crouse and Coun. Tim Osborne, all sitting councillors are running in this election – either for mayor or for city council. If a member of council acted out-of-line or in an inappropriate way – and Cuff cites several examples where individual councillors did – the public has a right to know. Instead, by not naming names, all councillors are lumped together in the report when we know that’s not fair. Council received no directives, only recommendations. As such, municipal affairs failed to deliver repercussions for any of them.
That’s not to say that there are no lessons learned from the report. Hopefully city councils in the future will be able to work together more effectively. But did taxpayers get value for their money?
An inspector could look at almost any municipality in the province for a four-year period and be able to make recommendations of a similar nature. No council is going to be perfect. But there is nothing from this inspection that holds councillors responsible for their behaviour or requires them to change. The recommendations are non-binding. It will be up to voters to hold councillors to account.
It was an interesting experience, but for residents who have been frustrated with council and fed up with the dysfunction, you have to be disappointed with the shortcomings of the report. Voters will get to respond to the report when they go to the polls next month.