Three Rocky View County (RVC) councillors are facing repercussions for perceived violations of council’s Code of Conduct bylaw, following a council vote resulting from a confidential discussion during a regular meeting June 11.
Couns. Kevin Hanson, Crystal Kissel and Samanntha Wright were each sanctioned for breaching section 29(a) of the bylaw, which states councillors must not disclose confidential information to any member of the public without the authorization of council. According to a press release issued by RVC June 11, Hanson, Kissel and Wright were found to have provided “privileged County legal information to unauthorized parties.”
The trio were further censured and sanctioned for violating two sections regarding respectful interaction, which state councillors “shall act in a manner that demonstrates fairness, respect for individual differences and opinions, and an intention to work together,” and that councillors must treat each other and RVC employees with “courtesy, dignity and respect.” Per motions made by Deputy Reeve Al Schule, Couns. Daniel Henn and Kim McKylor, the three councillors were found to have breached these sections by signing a Letter to the Editor of the Rocky View Weekly that “used language that was without courtesy and respect as required by…the bylaw” to discuss concerns regarding the hiring of Chief Administrative Officer Al Hoggan.
Coun. Jerry Gautreau had previously joined the three sanctioned councillors in signing a Letter to the Editor Jan. 8, but according to Reeve Greg Boehlke, he’s since apologized to council.
“We knew this question was going to come up,” Boehlke said. “[Gautreau] would have been sanctioned exactly the same, had he stayed on that same vein of thought and procedures.”
Boehlke added, while he personally wouldn’t write a letter to the editor if a vote didn’t go his way, he couldn’t argue against councillors with concerns making "true and respectful" submissions that specifically state they are the opinion of the councillor, who nevertheless will support council’s decision.
"That's the proper way to write a letter," he said. "It isn't calling your colleagues names and talking about 'the tyranny of the majority.'"
He added he felt the disclosure of confidential information was the far more serious breach.
Separately, Kissel was also censured for derogatory comments she made about Hoggan in a voicemail to Schule.
During the meeting, Kissel read a letter of apology to Hoggan, which he accepted.
“I let the frustration of my restricted ability to support my residents override my usual calm and professional demeanor,” she said. “I hope we can repair hurt feelings and move past this unfortunate event in order to focus on the important work of meeting the needs of RVC residents.”
Under the sanctions passed by council, the three councillors will be removed from County committees and boards and will face a 30 per cent reduction in remuneration until council’s October 2020 organizational meeting. They will also be restricted from representing or travelling on behalf of RVC outside the county without the authorization of a council resolution until June 11, 2020, and are to have no contact with RVC staff, including Hoggan, outside of appropriate councillor-administration communication at council meetings. Finally, the trio will be required to publicly apologize for their behaviour.
The sanctions were chosen by council, Boehlke said, with legal help to ensure they weren’t “stepping over a line.” According to the press release, the councillors “will still be able to fully participate in council meetings and represent their constituents.”
“If one decided they wanted to adhere to the Code of Conduct and procedures, they could go through the process,” Boehlke said. “The first thing is a public apology for some of the transgressions. If that took place, council could have a good look at it and say, ‘We believe it’s genuine and we’ll give them a shot at coming back to full duties.’”
Hanson, Kissel and Wright voted against each motion, with Wright stating she believed the “entire exercise is a gross abuse of power.” Hanson expressed concern the Code of Conduct bylaw had been weaponized and was being used “to hinder a contrarian and minority opinion.”
“If the majority could impose sanctions every time the minority put forward an opinion which the majority found distasteful or, perhaps closer to the bone, inconvenient, or which brought into question its motivations, our democratic process would be fundamentally undermined, and this truly would result in a tyranny by the majority,” he said.
Kissel, meanwhile, noted concerns with the process, saying she never met with the investigator from law firm Reynolds Mirth Richards and Farmer LLP – who was appointed May 14 – and had not been given an opportunity to defend herself.
“How does an investigation happen, with a conclusion reached, without ever speaking to the accused?” she asked.
Boehlke, however, said he felt the sanctions were appropriate, noting he did not feel the bylaw was being used to silence minority viewpoints. He added the investigator’s report sent to all of council indicated each councillor had been offered and declined the chance to speak with him. Further, Boehlke said he felt the councillors’ response to the sanctions showed they did not feel they had done anything wrong.
Following the sanctioning, Kissel made a motion arising to direct administration to contact the Minister of Municipal Affairs and request a mediator to intervene and work with council “to move forward in a cohesive and positive manner.” The motion failed, with only Hanson and Wright voting in support.
This article was updated June 21 following a request by Coun. Jerry Gautreau, who clarified that, while he was a signatory on a Letter to the Editor Jan. 8 that discussed issues with the process of CAO Al Hoggan's hiring, he was not a signatory on subsequent letters.