Two external investigators are being hired to look into the alleged bad behaviour of one or more members of Red Deer city council.
City manager Allan Seabrooke, who’s retiring on Friday, admitted that having two separate code of conduct complaints against council members is a highly unusual state of affairs: “In my 30 years of doing this, I have rarely seen this.”
Details about the alleged conduct breaches, and which councillors are accused of unfitting behaviour, can’t be revealed under confidentiality sections of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.
But more will be known to Red Deerians if the independent investigators conclude there was wrong-doing. Seabrooke said this would require council to take some censuring steps against an offending councillor — and this must be done in a public meeting.
The complaints were filed on April 15 and May 7 under the city’s Council Code of Conduct Bylaw. Seabrooke said grievances can be instigated by another member of council, or by members of the public who witness alleged conduct breaches by a councillor.
The bylaw guides all manner of council behaviour, from requiring a professional demeanour to preventing conflicts of interest.
A number of consequences are listed for breaking the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw, which was put in place in 2018, before all municipalities were required to by the Alberta Municipal Affairs Act.
Seabrooke said sanctions range from requiring the offending councillor to issue an apology, to sending the councillor a letter of reprimand, to suspending him/her from duties and docking or reducing his/her pay.
In Alberta, no councillor can be forced out of office, however, said Seabrooke — although a councillor could choose to resign.
The city manager said an independent investigator is only hired when internal measures have failed. Under the bylaw, the mayor or deputy mayor can be asked to get involved and try to informally resolve a complaint.
Failing that, a mayor (or deputy mayor) and two councillors are called on to review whether the complaint has merit.
If a complaint is found to have some substance — as was decided in both of these cases — council can decide whether to investigate the complaint, or to bring in a third-party independent investigator. The latter was chosen by council in two special meetings held May 4 and May 18, said Seabrooke.
Online minutes from these meetings show that the mayor and councillors Buck Buchanan and Ken Johnston declined to participate in the vote because of their involvement in one or both of these cases. But Seabrooke said this doesn’t necessarily mean the allegations are against them — they could have been part of the review committee considering the validity of these complaints.
Seabrooke said companies specialize in these kinds of investigations, which generally take four to six weeks. A report will then be presented to the alleged offender and to council, which can deliberate on which action needs to be taken.
Red Deer city council has been tackling several high-stakes issues this pandemic spring, including debt financing for Westerner Park and whether to move the contentious homeless shelter from the downtown.
“It has been challenging. Whether this is a symptom of that… who knows?” said Seabrooke, who has decided to return to Ontario to retire after two years at the helm of the City of Red Deer.