A county resident has alleged that county council broke provincial law in deciding to drop an item from its agenda – but experts say that was not the case.
Sturgeon County resident Len Kozak has taken out four full-page ads in the Gazette during this election period.
One on Sept. 20 publicized a pending motion from Coun. Patrick Tighe to have Kozak speak to council on Sept. 26 to outline concerns about how administration had failed to comply with pre-existing land-use agreements and called for a review of the actions of Mayor Tom Flynn, Coun. Ferd Caron, and county commissioner Peter Tarnawsky in relation to an RV storage yard, campground and banquet facility on land near Range Road 243 and Hwy. 37 east of Namao. Kozak manages that facility.
Tighe’s motion, as well as others proposed by Flynn, and Coun. Wayne Bokenfohr, was one of eight removed from the Sept. 26 county meeting agenda in a 5-2 vote, Tighe and Bokenfohr opposed.
The other three ads ran last week. One noted that Tighe’s motion was removed and likened that act to something former Premier Alison Redford would do. The second likened the proposed county campus to Redford’s infamous “sky palace” luxury suite.
The third was an “open letter” to Municipal Affairs Minister Shaye Anderson that called on him to investigate Flynn, Caron, and councillors Karen Shaw, Susan Evans, and Jerry Kaup under the Municipal Government Act for deleting items from the Sept. 26 agenda.
In it, Kozak argued that county council could not legally do that, as council’s procedural bylaw covers the addition, but not removal, of agenda items. He also argued that Flynn and Caron should not have voted on the removal as it affected an item that involved a review of their actions, which he believed put them in a conflict of interest.
Kozak is the former spokesperson of the Sturgeon Votes Committee, a group that ran two large third-party ads in the Gazette in the 2013 election and hosted a controversial all-candidates forum during it attended by nine of the 21 candidates.
Kozak is in dispute with the county over an RV park that he feels he has permission to run but for which he has no documentation, Flynn said. The park has been in non-compliance with the county’s land-use bylaw for many years.
In an email, Kozak said the dispute was about council “failing to honour existing legacy land use development agreements” and said the matter would have to go before the courts.
Kozak said that council voted to change the Sept. 26 agenda to let Flynn and Caron avoid the public airing of legitimate questions that could prove politically challenging for them.
“This is a fundamental breach of the democratic process, and needs investigation by a neutral third party,” he said.
When asked about the other ads, Kozak said the county campus project being stopped was an example of free speech working in the county.
“I am doing all of this on my own, unaffiliated with any group, organization or candidate. I believe that residents and ratepayers should be heard.”
Flynn said Kozak’s comparison of council’s actions to Redford’s was “not a reasonable statement.”
Actions legal, say experts
The video recording of the Sept. 26 meeting shows that Kaup made the motion to remove all eight mayor and council motions from the agenda.
Meetings during elections can be a “bandwagon for councillors to try and grandstand” and were unfair to candidates who weren’t on council, Kaup said.
“Those items should be removed because there is a new council in three weeks that will have to deal with decisions we make today,” he said, and it was inappropriate to consider these items during an election.
While county’s procedural bylaw does not say how to remove items from an agenda, it does say any matter not covered by it or the Municipal Government Act would be decided by reference to Robert’s Rules of Order (a standard rulebook used for meetings around the world).
County spokesperson Sheila Moore said that council’s authority to remove items from its agenda comes from page 373 of Robert’s, which states, “When the adoption of a proposed agenda is pending, it is subject to amendment by majority vote.”
Council controls its own agenda, and can add, reorder, or remove items by agreement at the start of its meeting, said University of Alberta municipal government specialist Jim Lightbody, when asked about this matter.
“The agenda is not a decree by God.”
The FAQ for the Official Robert’s Rules of Order website states that people cannot be compelled to refrain from voting simply because they are perceived to have some sort of conflict of interest. Even if a person has a direct personal or monetary interest, they can’t be stopped from voting, but “should not” vote on the issue.
The Municipal Government Act says councillors with pecuniary (monetary) interests in motions must not vote on them but does not address conflicts of interest.
Kozak said his legal counsel delivered his letter to Anderson’s office on Oct. 4.
In an Oct. 5 email, Lauren Arscott, Anderson’s press secretary, said they had not received Kozak’s request. She also said that the Municipal Affairs minister may conduct an inquiry on a matter if he/she receives a petition signed by at least 20 per cent of a municipality’s population to show there is significant public concern.
“An inquiry is an extraordinary measure and not to be undertaken lightly,” she said.