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Ag centre issues attacked

Ponoka Ag Event Centre Society board members hope their upcoming meeting Monday will return Ponoka County’s support.

The county recently pulled its support services after the board declined to change its membership to give the county and Town of Ponoka equal representation with the Ponoka Stampede Association and Ponoka Agricultural Society.

The latter each have three board directors while the county and town have one apiece.

There’s also one director at large from the community.

“There’s been some meetings and negotiations and stuff so it’s getting worked out,” said Ag Event Centre Society president Terry Jones, one of the stampede association’s three representatives.

The $8.5-million centre is a partnership of the four organizations.

It was built with contributions of $3.5 million from Ponoka County, the Ponoka Stampede Association’s donation of 15 acres of land worth $500,000, $275,000 from the Ponoka Agricultural Society and $150,000 from the town.

The province contributed $3.7 million in grants and EnCana $500,000. Calnash Trucking has since paid $500,000 for naming rights.

Ponoka County sent the Ag Event Centre Society board letters early this year asking for equal representation, one of them saying if the board continued operations in a “quasi-private way,” the county’s support would end.

The board declined and the county pulled its snowplowing, manure disposal and gravelling services as well as a skid steer, service truck and office equipment.

At issue is whether the board should govern by setting policies for its manager or be involved in day-to-day operations.

Ponoka County CAO Charlie Cutforth, the board’s founding president, said “from the outset, we agreed it was a governance board.

“When the manager arrived, it became very clear that there are those on the board who never intended it.”

The county and town are accountable to taxpayers while the stampede association and ag society are “more closed,” he explained.

“We’re an open book and they not so much. Our solution was to have equal representation.”

Board past-president and town councillor Doug Gill agreed the town “would like to see it move towards that model.

“Once policies are in place, you stand back and let the manager do his job.”

Ponoka county councillor George Verheire said a closed-door meeting two weeks ago with the Ponoka Stampede Association proved positive.

“I’m hoping calmer minds will prevail. It’s a bump in the road.”

Gill said resolving representation is “a very real possibility” at Monday’s meeting, but it won’t solve all the problems.

“What will the manager’s powers be and the definition of his job?”

The board dismissed the centre’s manager Feb. 13. No notice and no reason was given.

Ag society president Sherry Gummow declined to comment on the board representation issue save to say “there’s more than one side to this story.”

However, she told the Ponoka News she believes the partnership is working and stampede association and ag society volunteers have put in “thousands of hours.

“By the very word partnership, it doesn’t necessarily mean equal, it’s part.”

Cutforth hopes the centre’s benefits to Ponoka and area aren’t lost in the debate.

“It’s an extremely unique organization (and) it’s a wonderful thing for the community.”



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