The embattled Chestermere council has taken aim at itself, launching multiple investigations against three of its own members whose complaints prompted a provincial investigation by their own government earlier this year, piling more in a series of ongoing investigations in the city.
Following a closed-door session during a Tuesday meeting, the council, itself the focus of the province’s first municipal inspection since 2018, approved three code of conduct investigations involving councilors Sandy Johal-Watt, Shannon Dean and Ritesh Narayan, the latter two of whom were not present for the vote. The investigations, to be carried out by an unnamed third party, coincided with one launched Tuesday into irregular pay packets for two employees following their resignation and week after week into what officials called missing millions from their former utility company.
The code of conduct investigations will focus on a complaint to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs written jointly by Johal-Watt, Dean and Narayan, a Facebook post by Narayan about the utility company investigation and a statement by the three councilors in local news outlet The Chestermere. Anchor.
Unlike the two financial investigations, the city did not announce the code of conduct investigations to the public and video of the meeting was not available through the city’s website until Sunday. None of the three subject councilors offered comment on the matter when contacted by Postmedia, but they did confirm that the council voted to launch investigations.
The introduction of the latest investigations includes the revelation that Narayan, Dean and Johal-Watt were among dozens of city employees and Chestermere residents who complained to the ministry about multiple irregularities in city government, which it eventually led Minister Ric McIver to order the municipal inspection. .
Documents obtained by Postmedia through a FOIP request to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs confirm that the three councilors submitted two joint complaints to the ministry in February requesting the province’s intervention, although the councilors’ complaints were not included in the disclosure. , they were only mentioned. Complaints from the three councilmembers were directed at the actions of the other four members: Mayor Jeff Colvin, Deputy Mayor Mel Foat, and Councilmembers Stephen Hanley and Blaine Funk, the same four who have now voted to investigate their colleagues.
Their accusations, many of which are repeated in complaints from employees and residents, state that the four acted outside the resolutions of the council and exceeded their administrative duties, among other violations of the Municipal Government Law.
Narayan’s Facebook post disputed information the city provided in a press release about its investigation into the finances of his former utility, Chestermere Utilities Inc. In the post, Narayan said staff never told the council that millions were missing, calling it “miscategorization.”
The Mayor responded to Narayan’s post by saying: “As Mayor of Chestermere, I advise you not to discuss this publicly (sic).
“It is completely inappropriate for you to discuss what is under investigation. It appears that he is trying to interfere and influence the outcome of this investigation,” he said, adding that the only official communication is the one shared by the city in its press release on the matter.
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The letter Narayan, Dean and Johal-Watt published in Anchor in March was in response to their failed attempt to shoot down a city investigation into financial improprieties under previous administrations, citing the need for an impartial third party to conduct the investigation. In the letter, they said they were “strongly in favor of an investigation” but voted “no” after the other four council members rejected a request to ensure a “neutral” process for hiring an investigator.
In announcing the investigations into the city’s utility company and payments, the mayor urged Municipal Affairs to add those items to the scope of the city’s ongoing inspection. On Thursday, Minister McIver’s press secretary said the department had not furthered its investigation.
“Albertans deserve to have faith in their local governments. It is within the authority of a municipality to determine how best to investigate any operational decision and demonstrate to its constituents that local decision-making and service delivery reflect the interests and needs of the community,” said Scott Johnston.
“With regard to the ministry’s inspection of Chestermere, the appointed inspector continues to review and assess the city’s management, administration and operations. When the inspection process is complete, City Affairs will share the inspector’s report with the City of Chestermere and its residents.”
It should be noted that one of the focuses of the municipal inspection, as outlined in the ministerial order they are “problems with the code of conduct complaint process.” It will also investigate the items mentioned by Narayan, Dean and Johal-Watt in their joint complaint, as well as improper council meeting procedures and conduct and the sale of city property that is not in accordance with the MGA.
The municipal inspection is ongoing and is expected to be completed in the coming months, at which point the inspector will send a report to the minister for a decision. The minister can direct the council and administration to do whatever is necessary to remedy any problems found during the investigation.