Poor communication leads to strife in Morrin

Some heated exchanges peppered the Village of Morrin council meeting Mar. 16 as resident Howard Helton appeared before council seeking answers regarding the village’s “photocopying policy”.

Before the meeting even began, bad blood was evident as CAO Annette Plachner attempted to block resident John Siemens from entering the building to attend the public meeting.

Siemens has taken issue with council, initially over sewer troubles, then with the photocopy policy. He had been scheduled to appear as a delegation at the meeting. Siemens had received notice from the village that his appearance was cancelled due to the fact that lawyers were now involved and he was therefore not allowed to appear.

Siemens stated to Plachner this was a public meeting and he was allowed to attend, even if he could not speak and proceeded to enter council chambers.

Helton, a former Morrin councillor, had several questions regarding the village’s policy of charging for photocopies of minutes and agendas. The policy, which appears on an approved copy of the April 15, 2015 minutes and signed by Mayor Suzzane Lacher and CAO Plachner, approves a flat rate of $25 plus an additional charge of $30 per document and $1 per page. In other words, one page copied would cost $56.

In the minutes, the policy is referred to as ‘ByLaw – Fee Schedule for the Village”. However, in an accompanying document also dated April 15, 2015 and signed by the Mayor and CAO, the fee schedule is referrred to as the “Photocopying Policy for the Village of Morrin” and has the fees interchanged where the flat fee is $30 and the additional charge is $25.

According to Jerry Ward, Public Affairs Officer at Municipal Affairs, municipalities may charge a fee for photocopying but the fee must be set by a bylaw.

Bylaws, according to the Municipal Government Act (MGA), must have three distinct readings: first, second and third. The bylaw must also have a designated number. There is no bylaw number indicated on the minutes and no record of readings.

When contacted for comment following the meeting and made aware of the discrepancy of the interchanged fees between the minutes and the policy, Lacher stated it was an oversight. Lacher stated that council is reviewing the policy.

Refused access to public documents
According to Siemens, who initially came to council with a complaint about his sewer line, has made several attempts to obtain copies of council minutes that pertained to his situation but was refused and told by the CAO he was not allowed to have copies. Eventually, he was allowed only to view the minutes.

According to Ward, all documents from public council meetings are public and the public is entitled to access those documents. If the minutes have not been approved, they are to be stamped as ‘drafts’ or ‘unapproved’ and provided to the public if requested.

Both Helton and Siemens contend that the photocopy policy was hastily enacted to act as a punitive measure against Siemens for his requests to council, making the fees so high as to be prohibitive.

According to Lacher, that was not the case. Lacher stated that the fees were put in place prior to Siemens requests for copies of the minutes.

During the meeting, Plachner defended the need for the charges stating, “When somebody came in and wanted 40 copies of minutes back to say, 2015, it’s very time consuming for me to have to go back and find all those minutes and photocopy them. It takes time away from my work to have to do that.”

Lacher also defended the policy saying, at the time the policy was enacted, there were too many requests for documents and those requesting them were being unreasonable in demanding them immediately. Plachner is the sole employee at the village office and, Lacher believes, should not be expected to comply with requests immediately.

A punitive policy?
During the meeting, Helton challenged council to explain how they came up with the $56 fee, debating whether council could charge that much.

Deputy Mayor Dave McLeod responded, “The other thing too is, in good faith too the office has, on occasion, only charged 50 cents without charging the $30 or $25.”

Helton then questioned McLeod if that had actually happened.

“Mmhmm and it has happened,” replied McLeod.

“With this policy in place?” queried Helton.

“With this policy in place,” declared McLeod.

The policy is not written to allow for that latitude, argued Helton, making it appear the fee is a punitive measure towards particular residents.

Helton’s suggestion garnered a laugh from McLeod as he slammed a copy of the MGA on the table, “Tell you what Howard, run for council, change it if you want. I don’t want to hear any more of this.”

When asked in the later interview regarding McLeod’s statements, Lacher denied that this was the case stating the same fees were in place for everyone.

In a follow up call to Siemens to determine where this ordeal began, the situation apparently stems from his attempt to get a commitment from council when they replace sewer lines along his street later this year, that the sewer lines running to his property line will also be replaced.

The lines have required snaking several times and Siemens stated the problems are on the village side of the line. According to Siemens, two lanes where sewer lines were replaced in prior years did not always result in the line being replaced to the property line but ended at the sidewalk.

Communications between Siemens’ lawyer and the village’s lawyer have indicated that the line will be replaced up to the property line. When questioned about the situation, Lacher also confirmed the lines would be replaced to the property line.

The whole ordeal has been taxing for Lacher, who has been on council for 10 years.

“It’s never been like this before,” stated Lacher, who is considering not running for council again. The entire situation has kept her up nights searching through minutes trying to find out what Siemens wants.

About the author

ECA Review

Our newspaper is only as good as its contributors and we thank each one who submits stories, photos and opinions. If you have a news item, photos or opinion to share please submit it to office@ECAreview.com.