Chestermere managed in 'irregular' and 'improper' manner, says municipal affairs minister
Following a months-long investigation into allegations of inappropriate conduct by Chestermere city council, Alberta's municipal affairs minister says the city is managed in an "irregular, improper and improvident manner" and its leaders must now comply with 12 binding directives.
The results of the inspection — which the province called a rare and extraordinary measure — were shared with hundreds of Chestermere residents on Wednesday, during a public meeting in the lakeside community just east of Calgary.
The investigation was launched last spring, after the province received dozens of complaints from Chestermere residents and determined the local council was "dysfunctional." The inspection took place between last May and September.
It found 25 instances of mismanagement by the local government, including at least 17 legislative infractions.
"I fully acknowledge that many of the city council members had been elected for the first time. They were new to the business of municipal governance when the problems started," said Municipal Affairs Minister Rebecca Schulz.
"But at the same time, the problems have been going on for 18 months now and enough is enough. We need to address them."
Each member of city council saw the first draft of the report in November and were given the opportunity to share their input with the province.
In the 215-page inspection report, municipal governance consultant George Cuff analyzed Chestermere's governance from when council was elected in October 2021 to when the report was submitted in September 2022.
Cuff highlighted a strong division between council members, where there's perceived to be a "block of three councillors." He said some councillors reported feeling bullied and demeaned by the mayor and other members of council.
His findings also showed Mayor Jeff Colvin violated several policies "by having private discussions on council topics with certain members, by lobbying only certain members of council on issues rather than the whole council, by bullying one or more members of council."
Cuff said Colvin believed significant change had to be made if he was going to be a successful leader, and that could be done if he could maintain close supporters on council.
During the time of the review, Cuff says 62 employees left the organization — four retired, 19 left involuntarily and 39 left on their own terms.
Some other key concerns identified in the report include:
Irregular chief administrative officer (CAO) model, with administrative duties completed by some council members.
Improper process of handling code-of-conduct complaints.
Improper and irregular contact between council members and staff.
Improper and irregular treatment of staff by members of council.
Late filings of audited financial statements.
The report also made 16 recommendations, aimed at improving local governance.
"We hope and pray the council may begin to understand its potential as a collective body, as opposed to individual players focused on their own agendas."
Formal directives for City of Chestermere
Chestermere city council and administration now must act on a dozen directives issued by Schulz by the deadlines given.
The directives include hiring a consultant to review the effectiveness of the city's three-CAO structure, as well as a consultant to address conflict among council members.
The city must also send the minister a list of all code-of-conduct complaints, and a list of all land sales, with extensive details, since last October.
Council must review its current procedural bylaw, and councillors are no longer able to perform any duties assigned to the CAOs.
To ensure the city is taking action, it must provide a progress report to the minister by the 20th of every second month until all directives have been completed to the minister's satisfaction.
If the directives aren't fulfilled, Schulz says further sanctions can be taken — including the dismissal of councillors and CAOs.
'Initial concern' with report, findings
According to an email statement from the City of Chestermere, the mayor and council have some "initial concern" with some of the report's findings, the process of the review, the recommendations in the report and the directives of the minister.
But as recommended by Cuff and Schulz, city council will immediately consult with legal counsel about the report and directives.
"Legal counsel will be reviewing options, although at this point no decision has been made regarding any actions and no decisions will be made without due consideration," said the statement.
The statement said the city remains committed to providing good government to Chestermere residents.