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Irricana CAO review summary posted, former councillor launches petition for provincial inspection

“It... became evident through the review process that problematic municipal culture relating specifically to governance has contributed to contra-visionary work at a significant scale within the Town of Irricana,” the review stated. 
Irricana Town council passed the 2011 capital budget at a public meeting, Aug. 28.
After a third-party review summary of the Town of Irricana council and administration was made public, former council member Ton van Arendonk has created a petition to Alberta's municipal affairs ministry.

In April, the Town of Irricana hired a third-party corporation, Strategic Steps Inc., to conduct a review of the Town’s chief administrative officer (CAO), Barrie Hutchinson, after three complaints toward him had been submitted by residents. 

The complaints alleged municipal resources were being used inappropriately, hiring practices were not being followed, and Town administration was not following bylaws and policies. 

“The substance of the accusations in the complaints included using Town resources for personal use; appropriate procedures of hiring and supervising staff while avoiding nepotism; writing expense cheques without the appropriate support documentation or approval; violating a court order and questions around financial accountability,” read the review. 

Council voted for and approved the review to be conducted, and the process began in late April, when representatives from Strategic Steps. Inc. interviewed members of the council, residents, and Town staff.

“There was three complaints, so the council decided that they believe that there was nothing substantive about the complaints and they wanted to make sure that they did a third-party review,” said Irricana’s interim CAO, Corinne Newman. “They just wanted to know that everything is fine.” 

A three-page summary of the final report was posted to the Town of Irricana’s website at the end of May. The summary noted three main "gaps" for council's consideration, remarking on the understanding and adherence to bylaws and policy, role clarity, and code of conduct. 

According to the review, the team did find some activities that gave merit to the complaints. However, the portion of the review posted on the Town's site did not mention what actions or which complaints might have some merit. 

“Overall, the review team identified opportunities for improvements in the way the Town of Irricana delivers services, interacts with residents, and how council interacts with administration and each other,” read the report.

“It also became evident through the review process that problematic municipal culture relating specifically to governance has contributed to contra-visionary work at a significant scale within the Town of Irricana.” 

The review also stated that goodwill within both the community and the municipality must be present in order for the Town to thrive. 

“Much of what appears to be happening in Irricana can be attributed to this issue. Until council, staff, and citizens decide to pull together and refrain from ‘gotcha’ politics, the absence or presence of bylaws and policies will not fundamentally change things,” read the review. 

In response to the reviews suggesting that council needs to clarify roles, Newman said the council is currently working on fixing the issue. 

“My understanding is sometimes there’s roles and responsibilities that need to be understood by council,” she said. “They needed to have a lot of discussion on what roles and responsibilities were because people felt they could make changes on their own.” 

Recently resigned council member Ton van Arendonk argues the review was necessary because he feels Hutchinson, who is currently on a leave of absence, was conducting business unilaterally, without the approval of council. 

Since resigning from his council seat, van Arendonk has created a petition advocating for an official inspection into the Irricana council and administration by the Alberta government’s municipal affairs ministry. Under the Municipal Government Act, a petition for an inspection requires, at minimum, signatures from at least 20 per cent of the population, and all signatories must be electors – defined as “a person who is eligible to vote in an election.”

Van Arendonk started the petition because he claims bylaws are not being followed and bullying is occurring within the Irricana council and administration. He added he does not feel the third-party review provided a thorough enough analysis of the Town’s governance. 

Those interested in signing his petition can email IrricanaPetition@gmail.com

In response to the petition, Newman said Irricana Town council and administration have nothing to hide and would welcome an inspection by Municipal Affairs. 

Van Arendonk listed reasons why the inspection is needed within his petition. Regarding adherence to bylaws and policies by Town council and administration, he claimed a former council member was hired as a consultant by Irricana, despite a bylaw that states a councillor cannot be employed by the Town for 12 months after leaving office. 

“Why do you have bylaws if there is no enforcement?” van Arendonk said in an interview. 

Van Arendonk alleged throughout his time on council the Town suffers from a lack of financial transparency. He claimed the councillors were not given the entire Town budget to preside over, but instead were provided with a general summary. 

“They just do whatever they want, that’s basically what it comes down to,” he said.

Van Arendonk said the objective of the petition is to support the Town of Irricana in reaching its full potential. 

“The town is a good town, the residents are good. It only has some bad influence at this moment and you have to correct for that so we can grow again and we can make it a prosperous town again,” van Arendonk said. 

The petition comes after a tumultuous year for Irricana, which has a population of just over 1,200 residents. Van Arendonk’s resignation marked the third councillor resignation this year, with former mayor Frank Frieson resigning in March due to his move to Beiseker and Debbie Day resigning in June.

Day’s resignation came shortly after her husband Bob Day was accused of and charged with assaulting Stephanie Katelnikoff, who was running for a council position during a May by-election. Eyewitnesses and Katelnikoff claimed Bob physically removed her from the polling station on voting day. 

The Town will hold a byelection on Sept. 6 to fill the vacancies left by Day and van Arendonk. Three candidates are running in the byelection, including Katelnikoff, Julie Simm, and Nathaniel Fleming. 

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