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Rocky Mountain House council wants municipal inspection

Alberta Municipal Affairs has not yet replied to the inspection request

Rocky Mountain House town council is still waiting to hear whether Alberta Municipal Affairs will conduct another municipal inspection.

Mayor Debbie Baich formally requested the inspection – which would be the second since 2016 – in a Feb. 7 letter to Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver.

“Rocky Mountain House Town Council is experiencing significant governance issues amongst council along with council and administration relations,” says the letter.

It goes on to say that council unanimously voted at its Feb. 6 meeting to request the municipal inspection.

The municipal inspection motion was proposed by Coun. Tina Hutchinson.

“We’ve had an interesting year, a lot of feedback coming from the public and a lot of feedback coming from council members,” said Hutchinson in introducing her motion.

Scott Johnston, press secretary to the municipal affairs minister, said the request is still being reviewed.

There have been signs of friction on council for months.

In January, the mayor sent a letter to council and administration asking that the town’s lawyer sit in on future meetings to “ensure a safe environment” and provide advice to council on appropriate conduct during meetings.

On some occasions, “decorum seems to go sideways” said the mayor during the Jan. 16 council meeting, adding it has created stress and anxiety for all of council.

Municipal Affairs last conducted an inspection in Rocky Mountain House following a formal request from town council in October 2015.

That request came after a petition was circulated several months earlier calling on Municipal Affairs to take a look at the way the town was being operated, council conduct, how money was spent and whether members of council were abusing their power or failing to consider the welfare and interests of the town.

Although the petition fell short of the required signatures and was deemed insufficient, Municipal Affairs began a preliminary review in September 2015. When the town’s request came in during that process the minister ordered the inspection.

A municipal inspection report released in August 2016 identified “several areas of municipal excellence and some areas where improvements and changes are needed.

“Overall, the inspectors are of the opinion that the municipality was not being managed in an irregular, improper, and improvident manner.”

A few recommendations were made for council to get further education on its legislative responsibilities and for administration to improve financial reporting processes.

The minister can order an inspection report at the request of a municipal council, through a petition or when serious issues are brought to the government’s attention.

Inspections typically take six to 18 months and involve a review of a municipality’s council meetings, bylaws, finances, and other documents. In addition, the inspector may interview anyone they feel is necessary.

Once the inspection is finished, a report is presented to council and residents in an open meeting. The minister has the authority to order the council and administration to do whatever is necessary to fix problems found during the inspection.

Most recently, a municipal inspection was carried out in the 400-person Village of Andrew, about 100 km northeast of Edmonton. More than two dozen recommendations were made last month to improve governance and financial accountability.

In central Alberta, a municipal inspection in Alix in 2017 produced 30 governance, 15 administrative and seven financial recommendations.