A lot has happened in the last two weeks. For those who care about transparency, fiscal responsibility, and accountability, there’s been a bit of good news, but a lot that has been offensive.
First, the “good” news. The judicial review of the sanctions imposed on Councillors Hanson, Kissel, and Wright finally made it to court on January 22nd. As we said in our last post, although the judge will not make his decision until late February – early March, the fact it was heard in court is a big hurdle for the three councillors.
The “bad” news is that the Council majority continues to demonstrate its vindictiveness against the three councillors, especially against Councillor Wright, while continuing to turn a blind eye to questionable actions from those in the majority. As we pointed out earlier, the majority jumped all over Wright for an alleged pecuniary interest in a year-old land use redesignation, but completely ignored Deputy Reeve Schule’s possible pecuniary interest in the same decision.
When we brought forward a formal complaint asking why Councillor Gautreau had not been sanctioned for his involvement in sharing the legal letter with a lawyer as well as for using disrespectful language in Facebook posts, the majority couldn’t avoid imposing some sanction on him. However, the inequity of the sanctions is glaring. Gautreau only has to verbally apologize at the January 28th council meeting – an option the three were not given before their severe sanctions were imposed. Even more glaring – the motions sanctioning Hanson, Kissel and Wright detailed why they were sanctioned and were immediately followed by two lengthy press releases. For Gautreau, no details were included in the sanctioning motion and no press release was issued. Why is Gautreau treated so differently?
If that’s not enough, the council majority is now pursuing Wright on additional charges that she allegedly violated provisions of the MGA that disqualify her as a councillor because her family had outstanding property taxes. It was apparent she only learned about the arrears at the special meeting called by Reeve Boehlke. From what she said at that meeting, it was clear she was not given any advance warning, any chance to seek legal advice, or given any opportunity to rectify the situation before the council majority decided to take her to court.
This did not need to become the “issue” that the majority has made it. For starters, why did it need a special meeting two days before the sanctions court date? As well, if you listen to Reeve Boehlke, you might think there was no choice other than to pursue legal charges against Wright. That is just false. The MGA states that a council MAY apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench – it is completely discretionary. If they weren’t in such a rush, they might have looked at a similar case from Wood Buffalo where the judge concluded there were no grounds to disqualify that councillor.
Boehlke stated in a recent news article that “we can’t maintain roads, offer fire and police protection or provide recreation opportunities without these funds” [referring to the Wright’s tax arrears]. But, he is more than willing to spend ten times that amount in legal costs pursuing a totally discretionary court case. It’s hard not to question his fiscal priorities. As well, the January 28th council agenda includes a notice of motion seeking a three-year moratorium on the off-site levies designed to pay for upgrades to infrastructure needed because of new development. If the County can’t function without one councillor’s property taxes, what impact will waiving millions of dollars in development levies have?
Council’s actions bring to mind what’s called “strategic litigation against public participation”. This is a practice not infrequently used by large corporations – filing frivolous lawsuits against their critics to silence and deter public criticisms and advocacy for change. The parallels to what’s happening in Rocky View are clear and provide another reason why the Minister needs to get involved. If you haven’t written to him with your concerns, please do – firstname.lastname@example.org
Lastly, we would like to remind people that, while our tax dollars are funding the County’s lawyers, the three councillors are using their shrunken pay cheques to pay their lawyers. When the court challenge started, they estimated their costs at about $100,000. That may have gone up given the delays caused by the County. The fundraiser set up by Rocky View Taxpayers Association has only raised 20% of that goal. If you have a few dollars to donate, we're sure the three would be very grateful - click here to go to the Fundrazr page.