Municipal inspection underway

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The provincial municipal inspection of Westlock County is finally underway.

Alberta Municipal Affairs has contracted Strategic Steps Inc. to conduct the inspection and the inspectors arrived at the county March 10.

The public will be invited to speak with inspectors in person at drop-in interviews scheduled for April 11 between 2-5 p.m. at the county office. Those not able to attend can fill out an anonymous survey at StrategicSteps.ca until April 20.

The password “West2017” will be required for the survey.

As well, property owners will be randomly selected to participate in an inspection interview.

Westlock County chief administrative officer Leo Ludwig said they learned the ministry had authorized Strategic Steps as inspectors about three weeks ago — currently Strategic Steps is also performing an inspection of the Village of Alix.

Council had requested an inspection from the ministry on June 28 and the ministry stepped in with preliminary council and staff interviews Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.

Municipal Affairs confirmed at the end of November that the inspection would go ahead.

Ludwig said the fieldwork is expected to last approximately six weeks, with work taking place in both the county office and Strategic Steps’ office.

“Our hope is that the report is tabled with the minister and subsequently made public by mid-summer,” he said.

The inspection falls under the scope of section 571 of the Municipal Government Act, which covers anything related to the county’s management, administration or operation, as well as property assessments.

According to a letter sent to council in November from then-Municipal Affairs minister Danielle Larivee, the inspection may include reviews and evaluation of bylaws and policies, the structure of council committees and municipal administration, council and administration’s roles and responsibilities, conduct, financial status, and capital projects among other things.

The inspection follows a series of incidents over the last few years, at least several of which stem from former chief administrative officer (CAO) Peter Kelly — currently Charlottetown, P.E.I.’s CAO.

In particular, Reeve Don Savage noted that there had been upheaval over the Horizon North deal.

“There was people coming in from the citizens to save Westlock County,” Savage said. “Consequently from Peter Kelly’s leadership, there was many questions unanswered and they’re still unanswered. So (Coun.) Dennis Primeau insisted on a municipal review and Mr. (Coun. Bud) Massey made the motion that we have a municipal review.”

Between Sept. 2014 and Feb. 2016, Kelly approved more than $375,800 worth of work to prepare an eight-acre industrial park belonging to Horizon North without council’s approval.

Three months after his departure, council learned the county owed over $202,000 due to development costs and lost market value from the Horizon North deal.

In June, an eight-page legal opinion from Reynolds, Mirth, Richards and Farmer Barristers and Solicitors found Kelly had breached his duties as administrator and was liable for damages. Those breaches range from 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.

Tensions within council bubbled to the surface when Coun. Dennis Primeau punched then-Reeve Bud Massey prior to an April 19 policy meeting.

Primeau was charged with assault and signed a peace bond in Westlock Provincial Court May 25 and issued a public apology in council chambers June 14.

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