By Stu Salkeld The Stettler Independent
A letter to the editor recently published in the Stettler Independent caused an intense debate at County of Stettler council’s regular meeting Nov. 8. All councilors were present for the meeting.
Councilor Les Stulberg asked that the meeting agenda be expanded to include a discussion on the letter on page 10 of the Nov. 2 paper. Stulberg noted the letter was signed by a “Drew Williston,” but no community of residence was listed. Stulberg said he was concerned that the letter was misleading.
For example, the letter gave the impression the County of Stettler has no money in certain bank accounts and the writer gave the impression this means the county is in some way irresponsible or incompetent.
Stulberg noted that County of Stettler taxes are not collected until Oct. 31 so it would not be unusual for certain accounts to appear low. Stulberg pointed out the letter writer predicted $8 million in shortfalls, regardless of the fact the County of Stettler has adequate funds in the bank and he said he was concerned about the accuracy of the letter.
Stulberg also stated the county follows direction from ratepayers; for example, a survey of ratepayers told councilors not to go into debt for the new public works building, and council followed those directions. The councilor suggested the County of Stettler respond to the letter and comment on each claim or statement.
Councilor James Nibourg agreed, and noted that Williston should be invited to come to a council meeting and present his concerns to councilors. Nibourg said he sees the county as being open and approachable.
Reeve Larry Clarke said county staff, after the letter was published, seemed disappointed by the letter’s contents.
Nibourg noted the county spends a lot of money on annual audits to ensure their finances are being handled properly, and a third party accounting firm performs the audits. “We are a well-run ship,” stated Nibourg. “I think they are calling into question the credibility of our accounting firm.”
Councilor Wayne Nixon stated a war of words in the newspaper doesn’t really solve anything.
Stulberg said he feels mistakes or incorrect information should be addressed. “I think the public is entitled to the facts,” said Stulberg.
Nixon noted that annual County of Stettler budget meetings are publically advertised and are open to anyone who wished to attend, but traditionally no one from the public ever does.
Councilors also briefly discussed how meeting highlights are posted on the municipal website.
Councilors passed a motion for the municipality to address the letter in question with a press release to be issued to local media.
The letter in question was closed with an invitation for readers to contact Williston through email; however, as of Friday all attempts by The Stettler Independent acting editor to contact Williston through email failed.
As well, the website www.stettlercountyratepayers.com, was not available. A Google search resulted in a “HTTP Error 403.14 – Forbidden” message.