Former Village of Elnora mayor Leah Nelson told council at their Nov. 14 meeting she was concerned about transparency. ECA Review/ScreenshotStu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A former Village of Elnora mayor appeared at the regular meeting of council Nov. 14 to tell elected officials she doesn’t feel they’re open and forthcoming enough.

Leah Nelson appeared before council as a delegation to discuss openness in the village’s proceedings.

A concern only briefly spoken about at the council meeting but addressed in great deal in the agenda package was apparently a concern Nelson had over the passing of a policy addressing delegations to council versus a bylaw on the books that already deals with that topic.

While Nelson’s concerns weren’t mentioned in depth at the meeting, she sent an Oct. 12 email to the Village of Elnora explaining her concerns in more detail, including her conversation with a provincial government employee in Edmonton. 

“And I repeat the policy you passed on (Oct.) 10 is of no importance and holds no bearing, see below the comments from Municipal Affairs advisor, a tool that is also open for yourselves to use if uncertain on anything you are being told.

“If this is indeed the rules you want to implement then you have a bit more work to do. All this exercise did was show that you are trying to shut down any conversation and transparency, this is all we are asking for, answers to how your decisions are made because nothing is shared during any meeting, no discussion, no debate, just denial.

“If you continue to refuse our group understand that it builds more frustration and lack of trust and it’s not just how I feel (Mayor Jul Bissell) it is how many of the residents you are supposed to be representing feel,” stated Nelson’s email. “It is time to maybe listen to what the collective voice is trying to say.”

The Municipal Affairs staffer Nelson was referring to, judging by an email included in the agenda, was Municipal Governance Advisor Lucien Cloutier, who pointed out he was not providing analysis or commentary on any policy or bylaw but did note this: “Were a municipality to present me with these two documents and with a recommendation on what to do with them, my suggestion would be that the municipality repeal both the bylaw and the policy and that council passes a new procedural bylaw which clarifies their intent regarding the acceptance of delegations.”

Village Chief Administrative Officer Sharon Wesgate stated she also contacted Cloutier in Edmonton and “…had an extended conversation with him. He clearly stated the village is not in violation of the MGA.” 

However, readers should note Elnora’s Nov. 14 council meeting agenda included a request to rescind the Oct. 10 policy and for councillors to consider passing a new procedural bylaw.

More concerns

As Nelson’s presentation continued, the topic of the old Elnora Library building’s sale was mentioned. Nelson stated that Elnora council on May 31, 2023 accepted through resolution the sum of $25,000 for the old building.

However, at this point village council and staff disagreed with Nelson, stating an offer of either $20,000 or $22,500 was made for the building although it was never made clear which of those figures was the actual offer. Nelson came back at them by saying the village’s council meeting minutes quote the $25,000 figure.

Nelson also stated the village’s financial statement wasn’t posted on the municipal website and was concerned about that. The mayor and CAO both responded village staff were trying to get ahold of councillors and the mayor himself before posting the financial statement and also had trouble finding Nelson.

Nelson then asked if the council planned to hold 2024 budget talks in public. The CAO responded that over the past eight years Elnora council chose to hold budget talks in special council meetings. 

Readers should note special council meetings are permitted under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and may be held with certain advance notice or other conditions.

The CAO noted the special meetings are open to the public and anybody can attend. 

Nelson responded that few Elnora residents are aware of when special meetings are held. Nelson added that when she was a village councillor she also attended special council meetings which she now feels was a mistake.

Nelson didn’t seem satisfied by many answers she’d heard, closing her presentation with this statement: “All we want is transparency.”

Rescind policy

During the meeting councillors unanimously passed a resolution to rescind the Oct. 10 policy which Nelson mentioned in her presentation.

New bylaw

Later in the meeting councillors considered a new procedural bylaw; such a bylaw governs the way council will conduct its business.

Councillors unanimously passed first reading. Mayor Bissell stated he felt only first reading should be passed so this proposed bylaw can be publicly advertised to collect public feedback before other readings are held.

The CAO noted the proposed bylaw had already been posted on the village website for the public to read.

By Stu Salkeld, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Nov 24, 2023 at 09:06

This item reprinted with permission from   East Central Alberta Review   Coronation, Alberta

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