The waiting game is over as Westlock County will finally undergo a municipal inspection, months after council sent in a request for Alberta Municipal Affairs’ involvement.
The Westlock News received confirmation Nov. 28 from Jerry Ward, public affairs officer with Municipal Affairs, that the ministry had finished a preliminary review and a full inspection is planned.
“Based on the findings, the minister determined that an inspection will be undertaken,” Ward said in an e-mail, adding a review typically takes seven to nine months.
“There are no timelines for when the inspection will occur as inspectors are contracted through the government procurement process.”
From there, the inspection could touch on anything connected with management, administration or operation of the municipality, or any assessment prepared under the Municipal Government Act (MGA).
Once completed, Ward said the report would go back to the minister and then council, at which time it will be made available to the public.
Westlock County reeve Don Savage said he learned of the inspection from CAO Leo Ludwig late Nov. 25.
“Leo phoned yesterday and he said that he had an e-mail just saying there was going to be an inspection,” Savage said Nov. 26.
Although he didn’t know when the inspection will start, he said that he looked forward to getting the matter settled and laid the cause on former CAO Peter Kelly, Charlottetown’s current chief administrator.
“Peter was the instigator of it,” Savage said. “He’s the one that created the thing there with Horizon. And really, all of us are still in the dark. We have no idea what went on there. Peter had a month there and apparently he shredded a lot of paper, so it’s something they’ve got to get into it and then the information will start coming out, I hope.”
Trouble bubbled up during Kelly’s stint as CAO from Sept. 2014 to Feb. 2016, during which he approved more than $375,863 worth of work to prepare an eight-acre industrial park belonging to Horizon North without council’s approval.
Under Section 248(2) of the MGA, council approval is required for any expenditure of a non-budgeted amount of $10,000 or greater.
About three months after Kelly stepped down after his contract expired, council learned June 14 that it was on the hook for over $202,000 for funds they wouldn’t recover from the Horizon North deal.
County expenses on the site, including recent improvements and original development costs totalled $465,000, while current market value of the site was assessed at $263,000. Council was forced to write-off the difference.
In August, the News reported that an eight-page legal opinion from Reynolds, Mirth, Richards and Farmer Barristers and Solicitors dated June 13 found Kelly had breached his duties as administrator and was liable for damages.
Breaches included selling the lots for below market value, expending unbudgeted funds, withholding information from council, continuing to deal with Horizon North after his tenure as CAO and failing to maintain appropriate paperwork.
However, Kelly wasn’t the sole source of strife.
Council in-fighting came to a head when Coun. Dennis Primeau was charged with assault for punching then-reeve Bud Massey prior to an April 19 policy meeting. Primeau signed a peace bond in Westlock Provincial Court May 25 and issued a public apology in council chambers June 14.
Council requests inspection
By June 28, council had enough and passed a motion 6-1 requesting a municipal inspection, but clarified the motion at the advice of Municipal Affairs.
“The physical assault, the mud-slinging, the personal attacks … that is destroying confidence in Westlock County,” Massey said at the June 28 meeting.
“It’s more than a few people arguing in council chambers. We are trying to grow our community, we are trying to have economic development, we’re looking for a new CAO and none of these things are positive to attract people to move into our county.”
Municipal Affairs minister Danielle Larivee sent a response in August confirming a preliminary review. The ministry held interviews with staff and council Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.