By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
After the recent municipal election, those residents who closely follow County of Stettler politics probably thought the year-long pecuniary interest issue and censure of one councilor was water under the bridge.
Within the first few minutes of County of Stettler council’s regular meeting Nov. 8, as councilors discussed items to add to their meeting agenda, councilor Ernie Gendre requested the item “legal costs” be added for discussion.
Later in the meeting when the item came up for discussion, Gendre said during the recent municipal election campaign ratepayers contacted him regarding his pecuniary interest issue and the subsequent letter of censure he was given by council.
Gendre said these ratepayers wanted to know what the legal costs were for this investigation and censure, noting one or more of these ratepayers apparently described it as “an exorbitant amount.”
Gendre went on to say these ratepayers were wondering if this was money well spent.
The issue of Gendre voting on a construction contract that his son was later revealed to be involved in is what kick started the issue last year. The county obtained legal advice regarding the situation and the censure letter was eventually given to Gendre. The issue was raised during an election forum at The Hub last October, and when a member of the public asked about the situation Gendre did not deny voting on the tender but said at the event he didn’t know any family member was involved.
The Municipal Government Act states elected officials should not vote on anything that they themselves or a family member could potentially benefit from financially. Such a risk is called a “pecuniary interest.”
Most of the rest of council didn’t seem that interested in discussing the issue.
Councilor Wayne Nixon said, if legal costs for Gendre’s censure were requested, then the total should include the $100,000 spent by the county reacting to a petition which delayed a major construction project.
Councilor James Nibourg stated he was under the impression that this was a new council and Gendre’s censure was in the past and that’s where it should stay. “I find it quite disingenuous Mr. Gendre would bring this forward,” said Nibourg.
Nibourg also referred to at least one FOIP request brought forward by Gendre which Nibourg stated cost taxpayers $20,000.
Nibourg said he was also frustrated that anonymous ratepayers were mentioned at the meeting, and instead suggested that if any ratepayer had questions about Gendre’s censure, pecuniary interest, legal costs or anything else, they should simply come to the municipal office and request the information from the staff.
Gendre responded that on the campaign trail he heard ratepayers commenting on this issue, some rumors are circulating out there and he would like to see facts put out there.
Nixon stated the election campaign is over. “The campaign trail is a whole different ball game in my opinion,” said Nixon.
Nibourg also responded that lots of rumors circulate and they seem to do so no matter what councilors do to address them. He repeated that ratepayers should come to the county office in person and request whatever information they wish.
Councilor Les Stulberg said he didn’t feel the request could be so easily answered because legal issues can have hidden costs, including council’s time discussing it. “Maybe baggage from the last council should stay with the last council,” said Stulberg.
Gendre made a motion to the effect that legal costs pertaining to his pecuniary interest and subsequent censure be made public or given to the anonymous ratepayers in question. The motion was defeated 5-2, with Reeve Larry Clarke, Stulberg, Nixon, Nibourg and Cheri Neitz voting against, while Dave Grover and Gendre voted in favour.