City councillors have struggled with co-operation and respect as well as a long-term vision for St. Albert, according to a municipal inspection report released Tuesday.
George Cuff, an independent inspector contracted by the provincial Municipal Affairs department, met with councillors in camera Tuesday afternoon before delivering his 189-page report publicly at 4 p.m. with around 40 spectators in the council gallery.
“The examples of irregular improper or improvident actions are not, in our opinion, substantive but more a factor of disregard and carelessness,” Cuff said in his report.
In response to the inspection, Minister of Municipal Affairs Shaye Anderson provided no binding directives but suggested council follow approximately 25 recommendations that came out of the report.
The recommendations covered a broad range of topics, from governance and policy to council conduct.
The report said that the rift on council is so great that it has made “speaking with one voice” unlikely.
“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,” Cuff said.
Cuff’s findings included specific examples of poor conduct by council members, although councillors were not referred to by name.
The examples included an instance in January 2014 where a councillor used disparaging language about a fellow councillor in front of Grade 6 children and staff; an Aug. 23, 2016 email from a councillor that threatened a management employee with physical discomfort; and a “very aggressive and threatening email” sent by a councillor to Mayor Nolan Crouse on Nov. 19, 2015.
Other instances included a Feb. 1, 2014 speech by Crouse during the Chamber of Commerce gala that focused on splitting council into two camps and a letter of complaint sent by Crouse on May 26, 2014 to the employer of someone he had an encounter with.
Cuff noted an instance where Crouse should have recused himself due to pecuniary interests but failing to do so was a “genuine error in judgment.” On Oct 27, 2014 councillors discussed a Capital Region Board expense claim audit, the first part of which Crouse recused himself for. The second part dealt with council expenses as a whole and Crouse remained in chambers to vote, which Cuff found to be appropriate conduct.
On May 25, 2015 the same topic reappeared on the council agenda. The inspection found that Crouse should have recused himself due to a pecuniary interest from a vote recommending an independent auditor evaluate the expense review final report.
“He should have recused himself the moment he knew the substance of the matter being identified by the motion,” the report said.
Before the meeting wrapped up Crouse apologized to the rest of council for some of his issues being a “distraction.”
“I do accept certainly the responsibility and the targeted response towards the mayor,” Crouse said. “I apologize again for the three or four examples that you pointed out here … Every time I have made those errors I have made them with the right spirit,” Crouse said.
City management role
Cuff’s report highlighted the relationship between the city management and council. The report suggested that any administrative inquiry be directed through the city manager.
Cuff’s report said that there are too many voices from city management and “council’s focus on details has limited its policy role.”
It was also suggested that council’s “imprint” on issues should be enhanced beginning with the agenda committee stage.
The report highlighted the controversial hiring of then-councillor Gilles Prefontaine by then-city manager Patrick Draper and said while the hiring was “legitimate” it was not “appropriate.” Cuff did not further elaborate on the issue as both Prefontaine and Draper have since been dismissed by the city. Draper was dismissed in May of 2016 and current city manager Kevin Scoble started his role in January 2017.
The Prefontaine hiring was one of the controversies that prompted city council to pass a motion for the inspection on July 6, 2016.
Cuff wrapped up his inspection in June after more than three months of reviewing council documents and interviewing council members and both former and current city employees.
Municipal Affairs Minister Anderson and his department received the report July 24 and released the report Aug. 29. The report will be available online.
The report cost the city $80,000.