Transparent governance too much to ask?

Written by ECA Review

Dear Editor,

Why is asking for open, honest, and transparent governance too much to ask?

This story all begins at a ‘Meeting of The Whole’ shortly after our current village council was acclaimed.

There were about 40-plus residents in attendance including five past council members (three of them being previous mayors).

During this meeting, many questioned and pushed back on some decisions the council had or were planning to make.

Council refused to take seriously what their residents were trying to say and decided that public meetings that included input from the residents were, and I quote our mayor’s words, nothing but “a shit show” and the deputy mayor inferring that the residents “do not need to know” what is going on with operations in the village.

Months later, the council made a decision to purchase one of the last viable commercial properties left on main street, with the plan to supply a new location for our small library as it’s main focus, but also to create a new space for the Village Office with a board room.

There was absolutely no indication to the residents that this new “Civic Centre” was being considered and there was no public input/debate on whether it was a good idea or even something that we wanted to spend almost $500,000 on!

When the information finally made it to the residents’ ears, it was not supplied by the council as it appropriately should have been. Because the council refused to answer residents’ questions and concerns there was a public meeting organized by the residents, with about 80 residents participating, to discuss options on how we could obtain transparent information from the council so we can better understand the reasoning behind these questionable decisions.

It was easily concluded that residents were not at all in agreement of using this huge amount of infrastructure funds to unnecessarily improve already adequate municipal services. Especially because it involved gross misuse of the last viable commercial building left in town and was destroying our hopes of ever getting another decent grocery store in town.

Thanks to the efforts of a few residents, and our new business owner, Elnora is proud and grateful to welcome the Grocery Barn that now takes up half of this commercial space.

This resident’s group produced a list of questions and concerns and requested a meeting between the three on council and three community representatives or a town hall meeting but we were told that we could send one delegate as a voice for the community to regularly scheduled council meetings and that only 15 minutes of the meeting would be allocated to our concerns.

If we did not accept this format, council member Lisa Ferguson stated that “there will be no discussion of the concerns.”

Starting in July, we moved forward with our questions and concerns but not really getting any answers or validation that our concerns were even being taken seriously.

The August delegation, our residential delegate elicited admission from the CAO and Mayor that they did not handle the decisions involving the expenditures of the main street property correctly and even violated some sections of the Municipal Government Act (MGA).

The residents still believe council was not being transparent and the deputy mayor confirmed as much when he said, and I quote, “It’s operational, you don’t need to know”.

He also suggested that they were going to approach Municipal Affairs for a Viability Study, “because it makes sense to go back to the county as they are the richest in Alberta, while we sit here and nickel and dime”.

Municipal Affairs later refused this request until the ongoing Municipal Inspection is complete.

In September our delegate was denied by the CAO for no valid reason. Fortunately, that was overridden by the council after serious pushback from the community.

Then again, the October delegate was once again denied despite following all policies with follow-up questions because we had still not received promised answers to our questions.

Policies versus Procedural Bylaws
We called attention to their Procedural Bylaw that does not state any of these rules they are trying to enforce and, therefore could not be used to deny us a voice.

As we have come to expect, there was no response, however, when the agenda was posted on Oct. 10, lo and behold, there was text included that was titled “Policy #2023-03, Delegation to Council” containing the “rules” they were trying to enforce earlier, and many more, and it was passed at the meeting.

Bylaws outweigh policies
It was pointed out to council at this time that their Procedural Bylaw outweighs a policy, rendering it useless. An email from Municipal Affairs Advisory Services affirmed this to be correct.

The actions of council and the CAO over the last six months have sent a very clear message to our community that they are unable and unwilling to answer our concerns and questions and will not stop at anything to try and shut us up.

On average, Elnora council meetings are only 30 minutes long (45 if there is a delegate or a closed session)!?!

This current council and administration are far from prepared for their meetings. This was also very apparent in the audit meeting held on Sept. 11 which was four months late!

The general consensus from the current residents of Elnora is that we have no confidence in the CAO’s abilities or desire to act in the interest of the village as a whole.

She has proven through her actions and words that she does not equally, nor seriously, consider the concerns brought to her by the residents. We have also lost all confidence that she is doing her due diligence in preparing and providing accurate, timely financial information to the public.

At the time their nominations were accepted by the CAO (acting as the Returning Officer of the election), at least two of the acclaimed councillors were not even eligible to be nominated under Section 21 of the Local Authorities Election Act that states how long a person must live in the municipality to be eligible to be nominated.

This alone should require them to resign!

Also, members of the community immediately questioned the “Bedroom Quorum” as our mayor and council woman are husband and wife . . . in a council of three!
Although there is no section of the act to prohibit this, any reasonably minded, honest person can see how this would be concerning in a council of this size.

It was the obligation of the Returning Officer (our CAO) to extend the nominations deadline when no eligible nominees were presented.

The one positive thing that has come out of these events is that we have learned our lesson in our village. It will never again be repeated as many people are now more than involved in our village affairs than ever and are willing to put their hand up in the next election and treat the responsibility of serving the public with the seriousness it affords.

Maybe this council will stop and listen to the collective voice, or the impending Municipal Affairs Inspection they are currently under will force them to look at their actions from a different perspective.

All we can do for now is continue to keep this council’s actions in the spotlight to try and mitigate the economic and democratic damage that they have shown they are capable of inflicting through their ignorance and arrogance.

And hope that what is already done is not irreversible.

Ward & Leah Nelson
Members of the Concerned Citizens of Elnora

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ECA Review