After being accused by the Wildrose Party of using taxpayers’ money to support the provincial PC party, the County of Stettler has released information that it says clears the current council of any wrongdoing.
“The current council and administration remain committed to avoiding any partisan political events and we will continue to work hard to build relationships with all levels of government in order to best serve our residents,” Reeve Wayne Nixon said in a news release Friday, a couple of weeks before the Oct. 21 municipal election.
“We take the allegations made against us very seriously, and because of that, we conducted a thorough financial investigation within our organization.”
After searching through records dating back almost a decade, the county found instances in the past in which the county has paid for staff or councillors to attend politically-associated events, all of which happened prior to 2009 with the ruling Progressive Conservatives.
Over the past decade, the county paid more than $3,440 for councillors and $3,100 for staff to attend Tory events.
“Unfortunately, at the time, it was not uncommon for municipalities to attend political events in order to have face time with ministers and other government officials,” Nixon said.
“County council at that time was trying to build relationships that have benefited our community in many ways, including the rural water distribution system, Fenn Road and other important community infrastructure.
“However, the most recent council has put a stop to such partisan behaviour and no expenditures on these types of events have been made since our council took office in October 2010.”
The county has released the results of an internal investigation, which follows on the heels of recent and repeated Freedom of Information and Privacy requests from the Wildrose.
The opposition party alleged that the county communications director used county time and email to create a Facebook page to promote former county reeve and Progressive Conservative cabinet minister Jack Hayden, who went on to lose to Rick Strankman in the April 2012 provincial election.
“The internal review, of which will be made available to both the public and to the Wildrose Party as part of our obligation under FOIP, does confirm that all contributions to political causes happened prior to the current council taking office,” Nixon said.
The county said the list of contributors is available for viewing at the county office, but that it wouldn’t release the list outright.
During the internal investigation, administration also found the Wildrose allegations about erecting election signs and the use of employee time to create a partisan Facebook page to be untrue, the county contends.
“There was no evidence to suggest that either of those activities have or are currently taking place,” said Tim Fox, the chief administrative officer for the county.
“They also made allegations that we have stopped using email, which is also a baseless accusation. We rely on email to keep our office running productively and efficiently.”
Serving as reeve under the previous council, Earl Marshall said the county had often purchased tickets to political events and required councillors to reimburse the county before such events.
“There were some deadbeats on council who wouldn’t reimburse the county for tickets, so we fixed the problem,” Marshall said.
Soon after, council approved a policy that all tickets had to be prepaid to the county before events, he said.