Complaint against councilor kept confidential

·4 min read

Wheatland County Councilor Glenn Koester continues to debate with his fellow councilors about how details regarding a formal complaint filed against him should be made public.

During the April 5 regular council meeting, Koester gave council notice that he would present a formal motion regarding the matter at the April 19 regular council meeting.

A previous motion from March 1 moved that council direct administration to hire an independent investigation team for the official complaint filed against Koester.

The complaint was in camera, therefore making it impossible for ratepayers to inform themselves of the issues of the complaint, however, Koester’s name regarding the complaint was made public.

As per the Municipal Government Act (MGA), councillors are forbidden from publicly discussing matters that are brought forward in camera. Issues discussed in camera are confidential until otherwise formally released.

Koester moved that council bring the official complaint against him out of camera, thereby fulfilling council’s pledge to be more transparent and divulge the full details of the complaint and all relevant accusations.

“I’d like to thank everyone who showed up here today. I’d like to thank the people of Wheatland County for your trust in me, for your phone calls, for your letters, for your visits and for showing up here today, even though no one knows what is hidden from (their) eyes and from the public and what is in camera,” said Koester who included some of the letters he received in support of his motion in the agenda package for council’s consideration, which were read allowed in council.

“I’m quite aware of the bylaw, but it’s been contravened by releasing my name. I think those are circumstances that warrant the total release of … what I requested,” said Koester. “My name (is being defamed) and I can’t defend it. I’ve got people here who trust me. I’m sure there are people wondering and then there are people on the other side who totally believe it.”

Koester has also been removed from all committees he was appointed to.

During the debate, Councillor Scott Klassen reminded council of their duty to uphold their own bylaws.

“We are bound by bylaw … it lays out the whole process, we are very diligent … to follow this bylaw because it is sensitive in nature. I do understand the public will have questions, but these things are very much similar to an HR issue and we treat it as such,” said Klassen.

Council debated amending the code of conduct bylaw in order to disclose information regarding complaints and investigations if future cases arise.

Reeve Link cited previous instances when the bylaw was enforced, most recently being the previous term of County Council, in which case there was a code of conduct complaint against several councillors.

That complaint was kept confidential as per the bylaw. Both councillors and the complainant were restricted from sharing details about the complaint publicly.

Link also expressed the potential hazards for the County that may be associated with making code of conduct complaints public and how such action may diminish ratepayers’ confidence in council to keep complaints discreet and private.

“I have concerns that by making a code of conduct complaint public, it would permit the complainant to discuss the complaint publicly as well, which could open up a whole can of worms that could bring further embarrassment to the County and further challenges,” said Link.

Council defeated a motion to release to the public information regarding the code of conduct complaint 4-3.

Ratepayer Sharon Skibsted spoke out against council’s decision, likening it to the behaviour of entitled teenagers.

“What if it was your name that was released to the public? How would you feel? Your name, your division asking you and you being handcuffed and not being able to (answer),” said Skibsted. “Shame on you … what if it was your name, your family, your children coming home to you and saying ‘why is my dad, my mom being removed from this council?’ I’m embarrassed by your actions today. Who do you think you are?”

Council also defeated a motion to make the findings at the conclusion of the investigation public, 4-3.

John Watson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Strathmore Times

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