A group of concerned citizens known as ‘Urban & Rural Kneehill County’ on Facebook has made several moves, including a petition, to have Municipal Affairs conduct an investigation into a series of decisions made by both the current council and Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Kneehill County.
So far, the group – which was created in response to council pulling funds for the Regional Resources Urban Sustainability Grant in April – has travelled to most corners of the county visiting eight locations to spread their message and gain signatures for this petition.
As of Mon. Sept. 17, the group has accumulated 1,140 confirmed eligible voter signatures. Many more from neighbouring communities like Carbon and Linden have also signed their name to show support although uneligible in the eye of Municipal Affairs.
On Thurs. Sept. 13, approximately 70 people came to listen to members of the group in the Sunterra Room of the Trochu Community Hall.
Paul Devos, a former Torrington Fire Department volunteer, went through a 13-page letter outlining the concerns of transparency and proper decision making of Kneehill County Council while Kim Albrecht kept the speaker on track and added to the presentation.
“Well there has been discrepancies – I mean we have put out information to the ratepayers about stuff that we feel some of the decisions had not been arrived at by using due processes and consultation with the ratepayers,” said Devos in an interview with the ECA Review.
“We as a group are not necessarily opposed to any of the decisions made but we are severely opposed to what tools were used and how those decisions were arrived at. We feel if those tools are properly used, some of those decisions would have been different.”
“We have no concern with it,” said Kneehill County Reeve Jerry Wittstock in an interview with the ECA Review as he was not present at the meeting.
Devos and fellow firefighter Ed Look were recently let go from their positions on the fire department after comments were made on social media about the county.
Firefighters are considered employees even if the position is of volunteer status.
Kneehill County has direct control of the Torrington Fire Department as the former town has dissolved to a hamlet.
“We know the reasons. I mean it’s because we have somebody that’s in control. We are considered employees although there is one person that is in charge of employees at Kneehill County and that’s the CAO and he got his feelings hurt and this is his way of getting even,” said Devos.
“He will have his legal reasons for it that have conflicted like rules of conduct or whatever but the bottom line is that it is a personal vendetta against certain people that he feels are opposed to the way he does business.”
Wittstock found the story to be quite opposite saying, “So if you are running around bad-mouthing your employer and starting rumours, putting false information out there, how long do you think your job would last? And I’m not saying that is why they got released but I’m just asking you a question.”
The Regional Resources Urban Sustainability Grant was a $1 million grant given to communities residing within Kneehill County including Three Hills, Trochu, Carbon, Acme, and Linden.
Council voted to stop funding this grant earlier this year.
Trochu Mayor Barry Kletke who was interviewed by the ECA Review later said his community has felt the adverse effects of when the grant was taken away.
“Well, it definitely hurt us because we are in the middle of a budget year and we were expecting that money. They had started clawing it back in the last few years but again it’s because they say that their linear assessment was down.
“There is two parts to taxation: assessment, mill rate. Assessment came down $500 million from $2 billion, mill rate went up and the revenue stayed the same so that was a frustrating part for me when they pulled it away and they said that they lost that much money,” said Kletke.
Regardless of what the review brings, the petition group is proud of the awareness they have raised among ratepayers.
“We believe that basically the grassroots awareness we’ve been building through this process is very evidently supported by the residents of Kneehill County,” said Devos. “The more people we bring the issues forward to, the more people say ‘Holy crap, what’s going on?’”
On Tues. Sept. 18, the 13-page letter along with the booklets of signatures will be sent to the Minister of Municipal Affairs for review.
The review process is expected to take up to 45 days for the department to make a decision as to whether or not the petition will be valid to continue forward with an internal review of the county.
The group has made steps towards becoming an advocacy group for residents to turn to if they do not understand what council is doing.
“We are going to remain vigilant, we are leaving our kneehill petition email address open, we are continuing to canvas grass root support, and ultimately we hope to get organized enough so that we can become a group of people that can be advocates for the ratepayers,” said Devos.
Reeve Wittstock encourages anyone who has questions or concerns to contact their councillor or the county office for more information.
“If someone does want to know the facts and do want to participate and gather information, by all means, phone your councillor, phone the office, phone the reeve,” said Wittstock. “We are more than willing to discuss. I mean we don’t have to agree on everything but we certainly will discuss the issues that are happening and share information.”