Kneehill County councillor broke code of conduct with gravel pit visit

Written by Stu Salkeld

A Kneehill County councillor is forbidden to visit any municipal property except for council meetings after an incident involving a gravel pit contractor. The incident was described at the June 8 regular meeting of council.

Councillor Jim Hugo had several conditions placed on him through resolution of council at the meeting, and Reeve Jerry Wittstock explained why after the item “Councillor roles and responsibilities” was added to the agenda. 

“Mr. Hugo we have been advised that you have again breached your councillor roles and responsibilities and the code of ethics, do you want to speak to that?” asked Wittstock.

Hugo, who attended the meeting via teleconference, answered, “No, I have nothing to say.”

Wittstock continued by saying, “We’ve heard that you’ve attended the work site at the Torrington gravel pit and that you had contact with the contractor, which breaches your roles and responsibilities as councillor.”

Hugo responded, “That is correct. I did go there. I believe that is part of our responsibility to see what is actually going on at certain of our work sites.” Hugo added that millions of taxpayer dollars are involved in gravel operations and he felt it’s a councillor’s responsibility to see what’s going on, that it’s part of representing county residents and he saw nothing wrong with doing it.

Wittstock came back by saying the Municipal Government Act (MGA) forbids it and the county’s code of conduct bylaw which Hugo signed forbids it. 

Wittstock stated he was frustrated because council already dealt with “another concern” of this kind earlier with Hugo. 

The reeve noted that as part of the code of conduct bylaw step 1 of handling violations of the code was to discuss the issue with Hugo, which apparently was done. 

Readers should note no other mention of the previous incident was made at the meeting.

Wittstock stated council may consider going to step 2, including rescinding Hugo’s committee assignments. 

“I think we’ve got to the point where this just can’t continue,” Wittstock added.

The reeve stated Hugo may not like the rules, but he has to follow them. 

“We didn’t put you in this situation, you put yourself there,” said Wittstock.

“Do what you want, Reeve Wittstock,” said Hugo, adding that he wants information to do his job and felt that he doesn’t always get the information he wants from county staff. 

Wittstock responded councillors can ask county Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mike Haugen for information whenever they wish.

Hugo stated he feels there is too much “bureaucratic bull” when he speaks to the CAO and that Kneehill is not run as efficiently as it could be.

Coun. Faye McGhee stated she was “disheartened” by the incident and she’s learned that the system works if you follow the rules.

Lastly, she made the motion that council move to step 2 of consequences for Hugo breaking the code of conduct, which would include rescinding all of Hugo’s committee and board appointments and forbidding him from entering on any Kneehill County property or job site unless it’s for regular council meetings, including committee of the whole and that he only have contact with the CAO.

Coun. Debbie Penner stated she feels very well informed and that the CAO answers every question she sends him. 

Coun. Wade Christie agreed, and added he drove by the pit in question and it looks fine.

Coun. Glen Keiver asked Hugo what information he felt was missing. Hugo answered he wanted to know what the quality level was of the gravel coming out of the Torrington pit. Hugo also stated a ratepayer told him a worker at the pit had been buried in an accident.

Keiver responded the pit is in his division and he never heard anything about anyone being buried. Hugo stated one of his own division’s ratepayers told him.

Coun. Ken King stated questions can be asked at council meetings and even further a councillor can directly call the CAO. King asked Hugo why he didn’t do these things.

Hugo stated previous staff comments conflicted with what ratepayers had told him and that he wasn’t sure he gets truthful answers from the CAO.

King responded that councillors are a team and should get all their information together and further stated he was concerned Hugo didn’t trust information from county staff to which Hugo responded he felt “misled” on certain expenditures in the county. Hugo stated he wanted to know if taxpayers were getting value for their money.

Councillors approved the step 2 actions on Hugo. They also approved sending him a registered letter of the steps taken.

 

Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

ECA Review

About the author

Stu Salkeld

Stu Salkeld, who has upwards of 28 years of experience in the Alberta community newspaper industry, is now covering councils and other news in the Stettler region and has experience working in the area as well.

He has joined the ECA Review as a Local Journalism Initiative Journalist.

Stu earned his two-year diploma in print journalism from SAIT in Calgary from 1993 to ’95 and was raised in Oyen, Alta., one of the communities within the ECA Review’s coverage area.