Harris wants to put tax issue behind him

Red Deer City Coun. Paul Harris wants to continue his work without any more drama.

Red Deer City Coun. Paul Harris wants to continue his work without any more drama.

The second-term councillor said he is ready to put the whole tax issue behind him and keep working for Red Deerians.

Harris said council acted on the best information it had and seem to be satisfied with their position.

“Council needs to get back to work and get on with the things that are important to the city and this isn’t one of them,” said Harris.

On Tuesday, council booted Harris from the audit committee for not upholding his requirements as an elected official after failing to pay $6,594.95 in tax arrears on time.

As a city councillor, Harris took an oath of office and agreed to uphold the requirements of his position under the Municipal Government Act and the Local Authorities Election Act.

The MGA states a councillor must resign if he or she is disqualified for a variety of reasons including being in debt to the municipality.

Harris said lawyers told him that the MGA can be interpreted in many ways.

“They felt the city’s position, although reasonable, wasn’t necessarily the only interpretation,” said Harris.

While council argued that the process was fair and appropriate, Harris felt there could have been another way to handle the situation.

“I would have been expected the courtesy of just being alerted that there was a potential problem brewing,” he said.

Council determined it was in the best interest of the municipality as a whole to impose sanctions rather than force disqualification through the courts.

Coun. Lynne Mulder, who voted against the resolution, said she did not agree with the process but she believes in the wisdom of council.

Harris reiterated that he did not know the magnitude of not paying his corporate taxes on time. Harris said he was in the process of clearing up his debt when he was notified of the issue. His bill was paid within an hour, he said.

Coun. Lawrence Lee said this has been a challenging issue for council.

But Lee believes the MGA and its processes were clearly delineated and followed appropriately.

Lee said council spent many hours deliberating on the various scenarios and options, looking at case law and consulting with legal counsel.

“He paid his taxes right away and we didn’t think there was any intention to do anything dishonest,” said Lee. “It would be very hard for a judge to remove an elected official.”

Lee said there’s no point in wasting the municipality’s money to take it to court.

The door is still open, however, for any member of the electorate to file an affidavit requesting a disqualification, Lee said.

Council expressed grief over the regrettable situation but also stressed its commitment to be transparent and open to the public.

“It was a priority for council to ensure this wasn’t just swept under the rug or dealt with behind closed doors,” said Lee.

Coun. Ken Johnston said councillors take an oath of office that binds them to the MGA and other appropriate legislation. Johnston said he considers the stance a reflection of the council’s commitment to accountability and transparency.

“In a difficult situation we dealt with it in a professional and appropriate way,” said Coun. Dianne Wyntjes. “When there are difficult decisions, it tests council’s mettle. But I feel comfortable with this resolution that For me, it tests my personal accountability, our transparency as council for ourselves and our community and adhere to the MGA.”

This is not the only case of an Alberta council slapping the wrists of one of its own.

Last June 2014, the Fort Macleod town council suspended Mayor Rene Gendre from boards and committees for six months and stripped him of duties for various offences including inappropriate behaviour and disclosing confidential information. The town renewed the sanctions again in February.

The Town of Gibbons imposed sanctions on Mayor Doug Horner limiting his roles and responsibilities for six months for unprofessional and offensive behaviour in July 2014.

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