"Blindsided" Questions following RM Dufferin CAO's actions

·4 min read

FACT CHECK: The Last Mountain Times has a total circulation of 4,904 (March 2021) serving local communities around Last Mountain Lake near Regina. According to 2019 data provided by the CMCA (Canadian Media Circulation Audit), the DL has a total circulation of 1,137 serving communities near Saskatoon.

Councillor Sheila Fishley said that she received a phone call from Reeve Russ Kirzinger on Monday asking if she received a copy of the Davidson Leader in her mail. Fishley said she had thrown the copy of the paper into the garbage because she had never received it before, thinking it didn’t pertain to them and had to retrieve it from her garbage.

“I was unaware of it. I’m blindsided by it. I had no idea that this MR [notice] was going into Davidson paper. Why would we change papers?” Fishley said.

The Ministry of Government Relations required the public notice to be re-advertised after their review of a contentious sale of MR land was rejected and returned to council for reconsideration. The entire process has been fraught with allegations of mishandling, and this latest move only adds to that.

Fishley has questioned the process since September of 2020, “It was pointed out by the Ministry and the LMT that we have not followed the proper procedure for the sale of the MR land. There is no argument that the advice given was wrong.”

Questions remain after the CAO asked the Ministry for a waiver of the republication, which the council had not requested. The agenda item for the March 17 council meeting was minimized, not mentioning the totality of the review, saying it was a “wording correction” and denoted there were no supporting documents on the electronic file when in fact, there were.

Several key stakeholders received copies of the Ministry’s review after LMT had to go directly to the Ministry to obtain the public documents, despite requests to the RM. The RM’s move to suddenly change their routine notice procedures would be highly unusual, considering transparency and accountability to ratepayers is fundamental to any municipality.

“A sudden change to our advertising would appear to advertise to ratepayers that we are not transparent. We were not included as council in this decision and there was no motion for this direction,” said Fishley.

Since January, LMT’s efforts to access public documents from the RM, required under the Municipalities Act, have resulted in a complaint being filed with Ombudsman Saskatchewan and an investigation requested.

Despite the Ombudsman’s office saying they have spoken with CAO Audette at least twice about the complaint, Reeve Kirzinger and Councillor Fishley have confirmed the CAO hadn’t informed them. “I have never heard of a complaint,” said Fishley. She also was unaware the CAO had told the Ombudsman he was waiting for legal advice on providing the public documentation or if the CAO had consulted the RM’s lawyer on the matter either.

In recent council meetings, councillors asked the CAO to provide them with the work the RM’s lawyers had been billing them for as they saw the bills but didn’t see the work behind the bills.

Fishley said she hasn’t been told if the RM and its ratepayers would be receiving a bill for the papers that showed up in Bethune’s mailboxes on Monday. Reeve Russ Kirzinger said, “It would be foolish for us to start advertising in a different paper when we have ratepayers waiting to see and watching what’s happening with the municipality and this particular sensitive issue in the LMT and we will be running [the notice] in the LMT.”

The RM has come under increased public scrutiny when in September, LMT started covering council meetings in its viewership area. The increased reporting on councillor’s behaviour in meetings - demeaning name-calling and ethnic slurs, standard council procedures not being followed, and contentious local issues have drawn the ire of several councillors prompting urging by those councillors to stop advertising in the publication.

On Friday morning, the RM submitted the notice to LMT for publication. Despite the Thursday cut-off for submissions, it will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Jennifer Argue, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Last Mountain Times