In a shocking abuse of power, Rocky View Council imposed sanctions against Councillors Hanson, Kissel and Wright.
The sanctions eliminate these councillors’ access to all Rocky View staff, including their only employee, the CAO Al Hoggan. They are only allowed to communicate with staff as part of council meetings. Their pay has been slashed by 30% and they have been removed from all committees. Interestingly, the County’s online summary did not mention the first two of these sanctions – the most punitive ones.
The sanctions resulted from an investigation into formal complaints against Hanson, Kissel, and Wright. The first complaint was that they released “privileged legal information to an outside party.”
These councillors hired a lawyer on advice from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to pursue their concerns about the process used to hire the CAO. Their lawyer wrote to the Minister who responded to Council recommending that Rocky View establish a best-practices CAO hiring policy as soon as possible. According to the councillors, the “outside party” was their lawyer, someone who is bound by solicitor-client privilege, not some Joe Blow member of the public.
Curiously, Councillor Gautreau was part of the original group that hired this lawyer. Why was he not sanctioned and why did he not lose 30% of his pay? Gallingly, Gautreau voted to impose these sanctions on his colleagues.
The second complaint was for sending a letter to the editor in which the three councillors allegedly “used language that was without courtesy and respect.”
This letter responded to the majority’s unprecedented action to remove a notice of motion from the council agenda before it could be introduced, let alone debated. In response to the Minister of Municipal Affair’s recommendations, the notice of motion, written by Hanson, Kissel and Wright, requested the preparation of a best-practices CAO hiring policy. Their letter simply described what had happened.
Letters to the editor are opinion. Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms is supposed to protect all citizens’ right to free speech. Clearly, the majority on Council believes otherwise. As Councillor Hanson pointed out, the Code of Conduct was never intended to be used to silence dissenting opinions, which are a fundamental principle of democracy.
The icing on the cake was that, after inflicting this travesty of justice, the majority refused to accept the olive branch the three held out when they voted down Kissel’s motion requesting a mediator to help re-establish a functioning relationship within council. The County online summary neglected to mention this.
These sanctions have effectively neutered the voices of residents in Divisions 3, 8 and 9, over 40% of Rocky View’s total population. The County online summary states that Hanson, Kissel, and Wright will still be able to attend council meetings and represent their constituents. This is laughable. While council meetings are important, they represent a small fraction of a councillor’s duties. Given the extensive and punitive nature of these sanctions, it is difficult to see how they comply with the Municipal Government Act. The MGA states that sanctions must not impede councillors’ ability to fulfil their responsibilities.
To see taxpayer dollars used to weaponize the Code of Conduct so the majority can silence those councillors who question their decisions is a blatant abuse of power. Given the Reeve’s comments in the recent Calgary Herald article, he must have doubts about the sanctions’ appropriateness. Why else would he anticipate that the matter may end up in court? The flippancy of his assumption that tax dollars should be wasted to defend the petty vindictiveness of the majority in a court challenge is alarming. Furthermore, if the sanctions were justifiable, there would be no grounds to challenge their validity.
As their letter stated, “good governance requires a respect for the spirit of democracy and healthy debate, not censorship and manipulated discussion.” We couldn’t agree more.
If you have concerns about these sanctions, be sure to tell RVC Council and the Minister of Municipal Affairs, the Honourable Kaycee Madu. Also, please share this with your friends and neighbours. The “tyranny of the majority” only works if no one is watching.
Note: Copies of the motions imposing the sanctions and of the transcript of the three councillors’ responses can be found here.