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Council Majority Adds New Spin on Sanctions

Rocky View County’s second press release on the June 11th sanctions suggests that the council majority feels compelled to provide a further spin on their actions “now that the matter has become the subject of public debate.”

Municipal councils rarely impose sanctions on their colleagues, beyond a rare apology. So, when Rocky View’s council imposed dramatic sanctions on Councillors Hanson, Wright and Kissel for what might be, at most, minor misdemeanors, it is news. People talk about the news – people are interested and engage in “public debate”.

Every time the Reeve comments on the sanctions or the County issues a new press release, their story changes. Do they really think people will accept the new assertion that the majority’s intent was to give a “low-key rebuke”? Is it really “low-key” to slash their colleagues pay by 30%, remove them from all committees other than the biweekly council meetings, and forbid them from speaking with any staff, including the CAO? Or, is this taking a sledgehammer to a fly?

If the majority sees sanctions as the “last resort” as the RVC press release asserts, why did they make no attempt to resolve the issues before imposing sanctions? A “last resort” option is typically not the first step in resolving disputes.

The RVC press release states that council wanted to resolve things quickly and move forward. If that is true, why did the majority reject a mediator from the Ministry of Municipal Affairs? The sanctioned councillors proposed bringing in someone trained in assisting municipal councils to patch up their differences. Their offer was turned down without any discussion.

The County’s moving goalposts are evidenced in its portrayal of the alleged breach of confidentiality. The sanctions state that the breach of confidentiality occurred when the councillors (the three who have been sanctioned, along with Councillor Gautreau) shared a letter from the County’s lawyer with their own lawyer (who is compelled to maintain confidentiality through solicitor-client privilege). There can be no breach of confidentiality so long as everyone with access to the information is bound by confidentiality. Now, the County’s press release is asserting that the alleged breach of confidentiality involved what was said in the notice of motion that the majority removed from the agenda on April 30th – a totally different accusation.

Given that the notice of motion is still available on the County’s website, it is difficult to see how the sanctions have protected “what was left of the confidentiality of a legal opinion.” Also, all that was said in the notice of motion was that “Rocky View County’s legal counsel [noted] the unusual or irregular process followed by Council in the recruitment of the new Chief Administrative Officer”. This comment had been made by many others and is clearly a basic management observation, not a “confidential” legal opinion. Perhaps, the offense was drawing attention to what might be an embarrassing observation.

If including this statement could possibly be a breach of confidentiality, shouldn’t it have been caught in the vetting all motions receive from senior staff, the CAO, the Reeve, and Deputy Reeve? While none of these checks and balances removed it from the motion, the statement was serious enough in the eyes of the council majority to sanction a 30% pay cut.

With respect to the alleged breach of confidentiality, Councillor Gautreau was an equal participant in sharing the letter with the lawyer the four councillors had hired. Boehlke stated that Gautreau was not sanctioned because he apologized to council. It would be interesting to know when this happened since there is no record of it in any RVC Council minutes. Also, how can an apology from Gautreau be sufficient when the others have had their pay slashed by 30% and been removed from all council committees, on top of being asked to apologize? A classic example of different rules for different people. Given the very different voting patterns between those who have been sanctioned and the one who was not, it is difficult to take Boehlke’s assertion that the code of conduct “was not being used to silence minority viewpoints” at face value.

It was made abundantly clear on June 11th that Rocky View’s CAO, Al Hoggan, had unilaterally imposed sanctions on Hanson, Kissel and Wright well before the Council majority imposed its sanctions. The CAO has no authority to restrict some councillors’ access to staff unless the restrictions are imposed equally on all councillors. It leaves one wondering whether the majority was attempting to obscure this.

In terms of discourteous language (the reason for the second set of sanctions), is it really worse to say “when the majority places its own interests above the people as a whole, it becomes the tyranny of the majority” than it is to call your fellow councillors “corrupt”? The former statement is why Hanson, Wright, and Kissel were sanctioned. The latter was a statement made by Boehlke during the previous council’s term. He did not retract his comment, only apologized for using overly dramatic language. As Boehlke stated, “we are passionate human beings … we may stumble from time to time in adhering to the code of conduct.” It is too bad he did not grant his current colleagues the same leniency his former colleagues granted him.

If the County releases any more information on the sanctions we sincerely hope that they use taxpayers’ resources in a more balanced manner rather than continuing to further the vindictiveness of the majority on council.

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