Council Majority Launches Legal Case Against Councillor Wright
On Tuesday, Council passed a motion in a 6:3 vote to “instruct legal counsel to apply to a judge of the Court of Queen's Bench of Alberta for an order declaring Councillor Samanntha Wright be disqualified from council.”
The majority on council claim that Wright should resign because they allege she had a pecuniary interest in her neighbour’s land use redesignation and subdivision applications and, because of that, should have recused herself from those votes.
The claims stem from a January 2019 redesignation application and the related subdivision application in September. During the public hearing, Wright stated that she did not have a pecuniary interest – she had no monetary stake in her neighbour’s property. Of note, when the issue was raised at the public hearing, Reeve Boehlke acknowledged that the matter had been discussed in advance of the hearing and that it had been decided that there was no bias.
Now, just one week before the court date dealing with the sanctions imposed last June on Councillors Wright, Hanson and Kissel, the Reeve has changed his tune and, along with Deputy Reeve Schule, has brought forward this complaint against Councillor Wright. Coincidence? We think not. This appears to be yet another example of the rampant bullying from the majority on Council.
If the Reeve truly believed there was an issue, why did he wait for a year to bring it forward? And, why would he only go after Councillor Wright? At the same hearing, Councillor Schule indicated he wasn’t sure if he had a pecuniary interest since he had acted as the consultant for the application until he was elected in 2017. Schule’s involvement had been questioned in a submission letter from a neighbouring property owner. Schule asked his colleagues for input. As a result, the Reeve asked the applicant if they had any issue with Schule hearing the application. They did not and Schule participated in the hearing.
At Tuesday’s council meeting, Wright asked to have a letter from her lawyer entered into the record before the matter was discussed in-camera. However, the Reeve refused. In her response to the accusations, Wright read excerpts from that letter. She noted that she had asked for an explanation of how she had a pecuniary interest but Council had not provided a response. This raises serious questions of how anyone can defend themselves against allegations if their accusers refuse to provide any evidence or reasons for their accusations.
To put these accusations into perspective, the Municipal Government Act includes a specific exemption from pecuniary interest for situations where any interest a councillor might have is one shared by the majority of other residents affected by the decision. If Councillor Wright had any pecuniary interest in her neighbour’s applications, it would be an interest shared by everyone else in her surrounding community. Council has chosen to ignore this explicit exemption. Instead, they have directed Administration to spend our tax dollars to take Councillor Wright to court.
The County’s press release noted one example of pecuniary interest, however its relevance is questionable. Council had to dig back to an archived document that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has completely revised and replaced at least twice to even find this example. Interestingly, nothing similar exists in the current version. Could that be because subsequent case law has raised doubts about the example’s validity?
This was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of questionable decisions that were made at the January 14th council meeting - see other postings here for other "low points" from that meeting.