Mayor Panasiuk’s participation in trip to Niagara Falls in 2014 violated policy

(High Prairie) – Town of High Prairie Councillor Judy Stenhouse was recently suspended from all committees until the end of the year in part for violating council conduct when she attempted to make improper expense claims against policy.

Included in the SAGE Report released June 3 was Stenhouse attempting to make claims for an Alberta Urban Municipalities Association convention in 2023, for mileage to attend in-town meetings, and for attending High Prairie Community Beautification meetings, all not authorized by council.

Mayor Brian Panasiuk, along with councillors Donna Deynaka, John Dunn, Jame Waikle and Therese Yacyshyn, voted to spend money on the SAGE Report which has cost over $17,000 to date, and endorse sanctions against Stenhouse and Councillor Sacha Martens.

However, Panasiuk was himself in violation of council policy in 2014 when he attended the Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference in Niagara Falls. At the time, council policy allowed for two members of council to attend: Panasiuk attended along with then-mayor Linda Cox and Councillor Debbie Rose.

South Peace News asked Panasiuk and council June 10 and again June 16 to comment on the violation and whether Panasiuk would be held to the same high standard as Stenhouse. No one responded.

Meanwhile, back on April 9, 2014, council passed its Annual Conference Policy. It outlines when the FCM Conference is out of province, up to two councillors can attend, not three.

Later in the same meeting, the majority of council snubbed it and three members of council (Panasiuk, Mayor Linda Cox and Councillor Debbie Rose) attended the Niagara Falls FCM Conference. Against policy!

At the same meeting April 9, Councillor Trevor Carrier moved that council amend the policy to send “one or two” but his motion was defeated. Cox, Panasiuk and Rose voted to defeat the motion. Therefore, council was endorsing the fact that only one or two shall attend.

Yet, three did attend against policy: Cox, Panasiuk and Rose.

At the time, it was said Panasiuk was in Eastern Canada and his cost would be less than Cox’s and Rose’s. But sending three was still against council policy. Panasiuk knew this when he voted to attend the FCM conference. As did Rose and Cox. Council is supposed to follow its policies – a fact pointed out in the SAGE report.

And, instead of agreeing to send Panasiuk and either Cox or Rose and saving taxpayers some money, council sent three at a higher expense than sending two.

In the recently released SAGE report which Panasiuk has endorsed, it included violations of policy. Panasiuk voted for sanctions against Councillor Martens and Stenhouse when in 2014 he was guilty of a violation. The cost to send the three to Niagara Falls was $13,029 to town taxpayers. Not ever questioned by the former council, including Panasiuk. No penalties or suspensions ever occurred similar to the recent actions taken against Martens and Stenhouse.

On June 18, 2014, two High Prairie citizens attended a council meeting to express their displeasure. One was Brian Holmberg. The second was current Councillor James Waikle. Both former councillors at the time and both aware of the current policy.

Mayor Cox made three statements.

“It will not happen again. We realize it was not well-received by citizens of the town. In the future, the policy will be adhered to,” said Cox.

Waikle was also quoted.

“You broke the rules. Why did you go?” he asked.

Waikle was aware of Panasiuk’s violation of council policy in 2014 (“broke the rules”) but did not address the matter in the recent SAGE report against Martens and Stenhouse. Waikle was asked why but did not respond. He has endorsed the SAGE report but has ignored the 2014 violation of Panasiuk, Cox and Rose to this day.

All members of the current council were asked if Panasiuk will ever be held to the same high standard as Martens and Stenhouse, a standard Panasiuk endorsed by initiating and supporting the SAGE Report. Not one member of council has responded.

For attempting to attend the AUMA conference in 2013, it cost Stenhouse her job. Stenhouse says she was working at a remote job and told her employer she had to attend the conference in her capacity as councillor and requested days off. Shortly before the conference, her employer told her she could not have the time off. Stenhouse then inquired about cancelling and having her deposit refunded to the Town of High Prairie, but AUMA officials declined.

“So I said I have to go,” says Stenhouse, adding she did not want the Town to waste money on the deposit.

“I abandoned my job (to attend). I lost my job.”

Stenhouse upfronted the money for hotel rooms, etc. and attempted to be reimbursed but was refused.

As for Panasiuk and Niagara Falls, Stenhouse does not know if the matter will be discussed at a future meeting.

by Chris Clegg

June 22, 2024

This item copyrighted by / South Peace News   High Prairie, Alberta

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