The Regional Municipality council meeting tonight opened with a young “Mayor for the Day” proclamation.
The youngster who spoke before the council was without a doubt one of the few reasons to smile in chambers Tuesday evening.
The next agenda item was the topic which packed the chambers for public input. The item was council’s response to the result of the Whistleblower investigation into budget votes by Cllr. Krista Balsom earlier this year.
This was kicked off by Cllr. Mike Allen presenting a resolution focused on resolving the matter without involving the courts and sanctioning Cllr Balsom in such a way that “This motion is a … a punishment to fit the crime.”
Allen went on to say, “I can assure you, from my own previous experience… no matter what the allegation is, no matter how serious, right wrong or indifferent, it is something that follows you for the rest of your life and it impacts not only you, your integrity, and if you’re a business person, it has a severe negative impact on your business.”
The public input
Public comment came from a series of members of the public both in support of leniency for Cllr. Balsom and others urged council to follow the MGA clear directives and acknowledge what occurred, as the act requires, as a breach of the Municipal Governance Act.
Any breach results in Balsom’s disqualification and demanding her resignation. Failing that, those presenters urged, sending the matter to court.
Businessman, Marty Giles, referred to his own experiences on the Wildfire Recovery Task Force, mentioned being able to vote for benefits he also was able to take advantage of, claiming surely he was in conflict too.
He was not. There are specific exceptions covering that exact situation and they are outlined in the MGA. Giles openly admitted he was friends with many around the horseshoe and he recognized the challenge they faced.
He also vowed to the council, he would respect and support whatever decision they rendered.
Michael Jesso, a sometimes contributor to Balsom’s Your McMurray Magazine, spoke highly of Cllr. Balsom and her many hours spent volunteering and supporting community causes.
Jesso indicated, he knew that she meant only to follow the advice she was given, and there was no bad-intent in her budget votes. Several others echoed Giles’ and Jesso’s comments.
Following the public debate, Suzanne Manning, an attorney representing Ms. Balsom, was seated and began a presentation which started with a public statement from Cllr. Balsom.
A point-of-order was immediately raised by Cllr. Murphy that this was outside what was permitted by the MGA. Council voted to go in-camera to get legal advice, the first of many times this would happen during the evening meeting.
Further presentations on Cllr’ Allen’s motion were interrupted by 7 in-camera votes to receive legal and procedural advice based on points-of-order raised consistently by Cllr. Verna Murphy. Each point of order raised was deemed correct.
The assembled audience in-chamber were left wondering exactly what was going on, and then heard indistinct yelling coming from a room nearby used for in-camera sessions during regular council meetings.
A drinking game online
Meanwhile, commenters on social media who were trying to follow the proceedings were suggesting a drinking game around in-camera votes. There was to be no such levity in chambers, however.
When council resumed, with an abbreviated presentation from Ms. Balsom’s lawyer, the debate among the Councillors around the horseshoe finally began. Cllr. Bruce Inglis stated he would support Allen’s motion.
“I think the route that Cllr. Allen is speaking to, weighs very, very carefully the impact and intent of what has transpired here. I don’t think we need to reach the very final and harsh conclusion on this.”
- Councillor Bruce Inglis
Cllr. Murphy spoke of how much this matter had weighed on all council members, including the time when the information was not yet public.
Murphy went on to express how she was uncomfortable with Cllr. Balsom participating in paid-travel, from taxpayers, while she was under such investigation. At the time, Cllr. Murphy indicated she was told that Councillors are “not there to police each other” and yet, by supporting Cllr Allen’s motion, she felt that would be doing exactly that.
Murphy expressed her concerns about saying one thing a few weeks ago, and then something else this week. She didn’t feel that met the high bar expected of our elected representatives.
Murphy also expressed, “It has nothing to do with her personally with me. We all know how much work Cllr Balsom does in the community, at the same time, when you get advice from your CAO and you don’t take it and you don’t disclose everything to a lawyer, that’s trying to give you legal counsel. I’m thinking that there are some bad decisions being made. The MGA is very clear, it is our personal responsibility to disclose, it’s our responsibility as a Councillor. We were given huge binders when we were elected… and I’m sorry if those documents were not read or understood, but it is still our responsibility. ”
“To Cllr. Allen’s point that the outcome wouldn’t have been any different with the budget. That doesn’t matter. Under the MGA, even if she had cut funding for all agencies, it doesn’t matter. Even that she stayed in the room and voted, is what the breach was.” Murphy stated she hoped that Cllr. Allen’s motion would be defeated, as she intended to bring forward a different motion should that occur.
“Outside of all this, any taxpayer can step up and pay $500 to send this matter to court. And therefore, they would do the job we should be doing tonight. Therefore, I don’t see there is any other option but to send this matter to court.”
- Councillor Verna Murphy
Cllr. Phil Meagher spoke next and spoke of what he felt was council’s duty to match the penalty to the offense. He put forward a friendly motion to Cllr. Allen’s motion but that led to yet another trip in-camera for council to receive procedural advice.
Upon return from their 8th visit to an in-camera session, the council meeting then picked up the pace considerably. Cllr. Allen declined the friendly addition to his motion.
Mayor added his thoughts, eliciting a few gasps from the gallery, when he stated “I think the path before council is clear, “We must restore public confidence and public trust, and therefore, Councillor Balsom must be referred to court.”
The gallery was buzzing with comments following the Mayor’s comments, but the pace did not slow. The vote on Allen’s motion proceeded quickly and was defeated, 6 to 3.
Council: Balsom must resign
Immediately following that, Cllr. Murphy put forward a motion that, in keeping with the Municipal Government Act, council should demand the resignation of Cllr. Balsom by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, the 28th of June, 2018, or failing that, send the matter to court.
That motion had no debate and quickly passed 6 to 3 again.
Cllr. Sheila Lalonde then added one more motion that Cllr. Balsom could not participate in taxpayer-funded travel on behalf of, or representing the Regional Municipality at any event until the court had returned an opinion.
That motion quickly passed as well ending this agenda item.