John Siemens, a resident of Morrin, presented a letter to council at their regular meeting on Sept. 19, with a list of questions asking for clarification of the responses given to him by the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Annette Plachner with problems he had while requesting public information.
“At the August 2018 meeting, the CAO called my representation as harassment,” said Siemens. “I call it ‘holding public officials to account’.”
He outlined his requests for public documents in a letter to council and the CAO that included responses that he had received from the CAO, in most cases, saying Siemens would have to go through Freedom of Information and Protection Act, FOIP.
“We have your information,” said Mayor Helton to Mr. Siemens, “and we’ll be dealing with that as a personnel matter.”
“I won’t be answering any questions to harassment for slander,” stated CAO Plachner, “It has been dealt with by the FOIP Commissioner’s office many times and he threw it out because they said he was abusing the FOIP Act.”
“That is not true, Annette,” said Siemens, “They never said I was abusing the FOIP Act.”
“I’m not answering any questions. You are harassing me,” said Plachner. “That’s not harassing you, I’m simply asking legitimate questions,” stated Siemens.
Mayor Helton called for Point of Order and went on the explain, “We are not here to litigate. The gentleman is here and is able to speak to what he sees as a problem. We can take that under advisement and deal with it internally.
“As managers of the village and employees, it is up to us to review concerns with the employees and discuss that on a platform within the confines [of employee/employer performance] in a way you deal with any other personnel issue,” continued Helton.
“We don’t have a big fight back and forth, we will deal with that when we have all the documentation,” said Helton.
“Basically all I’ve been asking for from day one was an honest answer to when I’ve been denied public documents,” said Siemens, and stated he had “voice recordings where she (CAO) said I could not have copies of minutes. She said I had to FOIP them, that’s minutes, public documents”.
Siemens explained again, “I asked for a tax certificate and again she made up a phoney piece of information that I could not have them due to the FOIP Act”.
“Don’t makeup information. That’s all I’m asking, just to be honest,” concluded Siemens.
“Why do people want access to other people’s taxes. It’s nobody’s business what I pay in taxes,” stated Dennis Schoonderbeck, getting into the fray.
“It’s right in the [MGA] Act,” replied Siemens.
“I can tell you he is right,” said Mayor Helton.
Doug Siemens, a brother to John, who was also in the gallery offered his input, stating he was in “municipal government for 16 years in the County of Grande Prairie and everyone is entitled to what your taxes are, what my taxes are. We charged five bucks back then. So anyone can get the information. It’s nothing new.”
“Yes,” agreed John Siemens, “Any member of the public can request a property tax certificate subject to the fees that are established by the municipality bylaw. We have the bylaw, there’s the rules. I followed the rule, I have it [tax certificate] now but I was told originally I couldn’t have it, and instead of looking it up, she [CAO Plachner] said no, I couldn’t have it.”
“MGA 350, if you want to look it up,” added Siemens.
The CAO stated she would follow up on this section of the Municipal Government Act later.
“I have a huge problem with that,” Dennis Schoonderbeck stated from the gallery. Coun. Graham agreed.
Suzanne Lacher, from the gallery, stated: “If she (CAO) provides my tax information to somebody and they blab it all over town, Annette would be blamed for it”.
Mayor Helton responded, “The government act states certain things and whether we like them or not, the public has things they are given access to.”
“We can’t sit here and decide because of situation we don’t want somebody to access. That’s the point Mr. Siemens has made,” said Helton.
When asked by Suzanne Lacher, why people need to gain access to tax certificates, Mayor Helton explained, “Realtors, or they want to compare with what they’re paying [in taxes] with a similar house in a similar location.”
He went on to explain that “It’s up to us to know the MGA and to provide information they are entitled to. We are suppose to know that regulation exists.”
Schoonderbeck, still not satisfied with the answer, was told by Mayor Helton to take up the issue with Municipal Affairs because “We’re not to say ‘why’, we’re not here to question ‘why do they want it?’. These things are in the Act. These things and various other things that you are entitled to, without FOIP and ‘without prejudice’ and all this sort of thing, and that’s what he [Siemens] requested and that’s what he was denied,” concluded Mayor Helton.
John Siemens clarified that he only wanted answers due, and access to public documents.
“I’ve had to fight for every piece of information I’ve needed,” concluded John Siemens.
Council accepted the information and will deal with it as a personnel issue.
‘Children playing’ signs
Dennis Schoonderbeck appeared as a delegation asking if children playing signs could be put up at each end of the street where he lives as people are not adhering to the 30 km/hr. town speed limit.
“I’ve emailed the Staff Sgt. of the Drumheller RCMP and asked if they would patrol the village more often but had not yet heard back from them,” stated CAO Plachner.
The police are, of course, the ones that have to enforce the speed limit,” added Mayor Helton. Schoonderbeck also asked about the back alley behind his home.
“You guys actually addressed it, our alleyway, it’s a disaster,” stated Schoonderbeck. Plachner stated a letter had been sent but she would again follow up with getting it cleaned up.
In other business, Schoonderbeck said at the school parent council meeting they had wanted him to bring up the attendance dropping at the school and what the village council can do to help revitalize the municipality.
He also told council they needed to address this issue by conversing with the school.
Sprucing up the village, garbage cans, painting curbs and the condition of the streets coming into town by the school were also issues raised.
Mayor Helton had held a special meeting on Aug. 27 to deal with most of the outstanding issues that Schoonderbeck had raised.
“Be assured,” said Mayor Howard Helton, “it is being worked at.”
In a follow-up interview with the ECA Review, Mayor Helton noted, “In minutes of the August 15 regular meeting the ‘job list’ was omitted which contravenes the motion we made to include this list.
“Had this list been included, I could have referred Mr. Schoonderbeck to the list attached to his copy of these minutes. A number of the projects had been handed over to the CAO, as manager for public works, earlier in the year and then again reminded at the August 27 special meeting.”
Cleanup expenses paid
Resident Joe Peloquin attended the meeting requesting $560 for clean up expenses that were incurred as a result of sewer backups.
The village line from the edge of Peloquin’s property to the main line at 104 Railway Ave. S. was expected to be repaired in the spring of 2018 after council made a motion to have it repaired in January of this year.
Peloquin also told council he is getting quotes for repairs including drywall replacement at a later date. Coun. Graham asked the CAO if the issue was being fixed.
“Should be in a few days,” said Plachner.
Council moved to have the village pay for the cleanup expenses incurred by Peloquin.