By Cole Parkinson
As part of sanctions levied against three Municipal District of Taber councillors, apology letters directed to council were released to the public.
During the M.D. of Taber’s regular meeting on Dec. 10, the letters addressed to council written by Councillors Tamara Miyanaga, Brian Brewin and John Turcato were a part of open session as agenda items.
Brewin and Turcato were required to write letters of apology to the complainant and to council, were removed from council appointed committees until the M.D. of Taber 2020 organizational meeting, and associated committee remuneration has been reduced until the 2020 Organizational meeting.
Miyanaga was required to issue a letter of apology to the complainant, a letter of apology to council, removed from council appointed committees until March 1, 2020, and associated committee remuneration is reduced until March 1, 2020.
The three councillors issued their concerns with the letters being released to the public.
“Given the integral confidentiality plays in the complaint process, I believe that it is inconsistent and contrary to both the spirit and the intention of the Code of Conduct Bylaw and the complaints process to release our letters to the public,” read Coun. Miyanaga from a prepared statement. “Moreover, it is my position that the partial disclosure of the complaint process is a disservice to the public and creates speculation and misinformation. As stated in the RFD (Request for Decision) for today, accessible, timely and understandable information about council decisions, actions and priorities. I would also add the strategic vision from the plan, a community based on the principles of openness, trust and integrity, social, cultural vitality and economic environmental sustainability. It is my position that this selective disclosure of the complaint process is divisive to the municipality and public and it has been harmful to responsible governance. When I ran to represent Division 4 in the M.D. residence, I was very clear on my platform. To represent the concerns and interests of the residents, continue to advance economic and social opportunities of the district, strengthen relationships with our municipal partners and recognize the diversity of age, culture and economic prosperity, have a high level of diligence and research and be approachable, available and transparent. The last years we have lived unfortunate times with growing assessment and low taxes. In these last two years, we have seen increased costs, declining assessment, reduced grants and financial demands from the province and we have higher than ever uncollected taxes. These are challenging times. The Code of Conduct process has been difficult for the residents, the staff, council and my friends and family. I stand by my apology letter that my intention was and is to serve as M.D. councillor. I apologize for the time and resources this has taken from the M.D. of Taber and I will continue to work with council for the best interests of our residents and businesses in these challenging times. I do request we review our Code of Conduct process to ensure that we are not in our own violation of Code of Conduct, confidentiality and personal matters.”
Coun. Brewin detailed similar issues in regards to releasing the letters to the public as he urged council to move forward.
“Reeve (Merrill) Harris, in a current conversation with me, you made a statement that you ‘are just doing what the CAO and the lawyers are telling you to do in regards to the Code of Conduct complaints.’ It is your leadership, not those of others that is needed through times like this. While I appreciate following the conditions and the resolutions made by council, I do have questions on the process that was used. The reeve and interim CAO (Doug Henderson) have hurriedly and thoughtlessly determined to disclose the apology letters of me and Councillors Turcato and Miyanaga to the public. This disclosure was not approved by council in the sanctions that didn’t exist and cannot now be imposed. The consequence is the public perception of three councillors appear to have been skewed while the full disclosure of the complaints against these councillors and the findings against them can never be fully (disclosed) due to confidentiality concerns. Having said this, we as a council have a lot of work to do in the coming years. With increased police costs, declining MSI and assessment, we are left with some hard decisions to make in the future years. For the sake of our municipality, we need to put this behind us. What has happened has certainly hurt many individuals’ pride and feelings, including my own, but these feelings have to be put aside and we now need to move forward and work together as a united council. I do apologize for any inconvenience that this may have caused. On the positive side, I don’t think we are the only municipality going through this, there are other ones across the province doing this.”
Coun. Turcato participated in the council meeting via conference call and he touched on his issues involving the process of the Code of Conduct complaints.
“I’m not sure of this process. I just have a real problem with the process, the whole process with how it sits. I’m not sure how some stuff can be released and not the rest. There seems to be cherry-picking as to what is public information and what is private. We all have work to do and we have to get that work done and this process did not help.”
To explain the process had been approached by council, Reeve Harris stated how he went about garnering opinions from municipalities with similar situations.
“When this process started last February, I’ll be honest, I did not know how to deal with it. I talked with Reeve Jerry Wittstock from (Kneehill County), who had sanctioned one of their councillors and he told me it should be totally open to the public, nothing should be hidden. I talked with Reeve Greg Boehlke of Rocky View County who has gone through the same thing this year and he said the same thing, everything should be out in the open and transparent, and the public has the right to know. As you all know, I spoke with Gabrielle (Battiste, from LadderUp Consulting) at the very beginning of this because she was somebody I thought I could trust and ask advice of. At the end of this process, we talked with a lawyer named Michael Solowan from Brownlee and I have followed the advice that I was given in each circumstance,” he said. “I think one of the things we are forgetting here is what happened to the individual, the complainant. I probably have never told any of you this but four times, in the prior times to submitting the Code of Conduct complaint, four times he was hospitalized due to stress-related things that had happened within the walls of this building. Part of your sanction was to apologize, and we felt since the public already knows that is something you needed to do, that if you apologized, and it was put on the agenda today, the public at large would know you have done what you were asked to do. That you are moving forward, you did what you were asked to do. You apologized to this council, I am assuming you have done the same to (the complainant), I have no idea if you have or if you haven’t. I looked at it as a way for this council could move forward from here. We have a little less than two years left and we have to work together and for the better of the municipality. It was not to further anyone’s embarrassment or anything like that. It was just to show you had done what you needed to do to get this thing behind us. When I asked for advice, I followed the advice given to me.”
“I think our intent is to move forward, Merrill. I think that is where we need to go now,” added Brewin.
A motion to accept the apology letters was carried unanimously.