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Ousted mayor fights to get his job back in Chestermere, Alta.

From left: Mel Foat, Stephen Hanley, Jeff Colvin and Blaine Funk say the minister of municipal affair's decision to dismiss them from Chestermere city council was undemocratic. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)
From left: Mel Foat, Stephen Hanley, Jeff Colvin and Blaine Funk say the minister of municipal affair's decision to dismiss them from Chestermere city council was undemocratic. (Bryan Labby/CBC - image credit)

The lawyer for Jeff Colvin, the former mayor of Chestermere, has argued once again that Colvin and three other dismissed members of city council should be returned to office immediately.

Jeff Moroz told the Court of King's Bench justice on Tuesday that the removal of Colvin and councillors Mel Foat, Blaine Funk and Stephen Hanley runs contrary to the decision made by voters in October 2021.

He said the appointment of Doug Lagore as official administrator representing council has caused the community great harm by "cancelling contracts and making bold policy decisions" and reversing some of the decisions made by the former mayor and councillors.

"It is one person making all of these policy decisions. He's undone what all of these great people have put in place," Moroz said.

"You have irreparable harm."

Colvin and the other councillors are seeking an interim injunction that would set aside Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver's decision to dismiss them on Dec. 4. They have to successfully argue that they've suffered irreparable harm.

They lost a similar, pre-emptive application before they were sacked.

The judge in that case said if the injunction was granted, the harm to the public, namely the residents of Chestermere, would be greater than any harm to the former councillors. Days later, the group was sacked and did not appeal the court's decision.

Colvin says this application is different because they've actually been dismissed.

"The City of Chestermere residents elected all seven of us, they did not elect Doug Lagore," Colvin said outside court with the three former councillors standing next to him.

"We're here to fight for our residents."

Flawed inspection

Colvin's team will argue the decision to dismiss them was based on a flawed provincial inspection of how the city just east of Calgary was managed and governed.

McIver also sacked the city's three chief administrative officers at the same time.

The inspectionreport said the city was being managed in an irregular, improper and improvident manner. McIver let council know last October that he intended to dismiss them and then followed through seven weeks later. He spared councillors Ritesh Narayan, Sandy Johal-Watt and Shannon Dean. Johal-Watt has since resigned.

The four dismissed Chestermere councillors. Clockwise from top left; Mayor Jeff Colvin, Blaine Funk, Mel Foat and Stephen Hanley.
The four dismissed Chestermere councillors. Clockwise from top left; Mayor Jeff Colvin, Blaine Funk, Mel Foat and Stephen Hanley.

The four dismissed Chestermere council members. Clockwise from top left: Former mayor Jeff Colvin and former councillors Blaine Funk, Mel Foat and Stephen Hanley. (City of Chestermere)

The lawyer for the minister of municipal affairs said the group argued their case and didn't succeed last November. Peter Buijs said the same issues involving the same four councillors should not be re-litigated. He also pointed out the group did not appeal the Nov. 30 decision.

In a separate action, the group is seeking a judicial review of the province's actions. It's possible that matter won't be held until 2025.

Where's the evidence?

Colvin and the councillors have repeatedly said the inspection report was filled with factual errors and was based on opinions, speculation, hearsay and innuendo.

"Where is the evidence?"

"The various allegations that municipal affairs and Ric McIver put out, I ask that everyone take a read of what they're saying and then look at the possibility of that being true," Colvin said in an interview at his lakeside home.

Through their lawyer, they've argued there is no evidence of any wrongdoing during their 774 days in office.

Moroz, of MJM LLP, says council has responded to all of the minister's 12directives that were ordered after the inspection report was made public.

Moroz says the city is functioning well, property taxes are down, housing and business developments are proceeding and the city is growing.

"It's not as if the town is burning down. It's business as usual," Moroz said in court in November.

Along with the directives, the province appointed the official administrator to oversee council. Colvin says the appointment was unnecessary and Lagore has been disallowing "critical policy initiatives, bylaws and resolutions" and is "usurping the authority of the elected council."

Colvin, who founded Regional Water Enterprises and is now semi-retired, says a number of housing developments and other projects are now at risk of not proceeding.

Concerns of financial irregularities

The official administrator has raised concerns about "significant financial and other irregularities" in a review of the city's financial records.

  • 84 lunch and dinner expenses by the former mayor on a city-issued credit card. The amount totalled $8,600 and included alcohol purchases during the day.

  • Unauthorized payment of $123,000 to a U.S. company for the purchase of trolley buses.

  • Payments made to local home builders.

  • $110,000 property tax refund to a single land owner; city crews carrying out work on that same property.

  • Hiring of two consultants to review the city's tri-CAO model. Doug Lagore says the city refused to provide the report from the first consultant and then hired a second consultant to do the same work. The reports were not given to him and he doesn't know how much they cost.

The minister's office also raised concerns about council's decision to set aside a $100,000 retainer for a law firm to launch a judicial review of the province's inspection and council's dismissal.

The minister's office believes the application for a judicial review and the retention of legal counsel was authorized without full council's knowledge and that it was approved without a resolution of council.

Colvin says the fund was approved by one of the city's CAOs and not council.

He also says the meal and drink charges are from meetings where city business was being discussed. He says the trolley bus purchase was a budgeted expense and approved by the administrator, and the payments to home builders were security deposit refunds.

Colvin also says the property tax refund didn't happen because it was blocked by the official administrator. Colvin says city crews moved fill from another location and dumped it on the property. He says the work saved taxpayers approximately $150,000 in cleanup costs. And he says the consultants hired to examine the CAO model didn't complete their work because of conflicts of interest that should have been disclosed earlier.

Financial inspection underway

The province ordered an inspection of the financial management of the city since the election and up to the day the four were dismissed.

Deloitte Inc. will carry out the inspection, which will include:

  • Financial policies, financial controls and financial governance.

  • Financial transactions and how they complied with the relevant legislation and budget processes.

  • Chief administrative officer and council expenses.

  • Financial reporting.

  • Hires and procurement, including fees paid for services.

Colvin doesn't believe a financial inspection is necessary. He says council already provided independent, audited financial statements for 2021 and 2022 to Alberta Municipal Affairs. He says the city also audited its wholly owned utility, formerly known as Chestermere Utilities Incorporated (CUI).

"We've already had the audits done, so to go and do another audit, they're very welcome to go do it," he said.

Colvin, who earned $84,000 as mayor, says he's been working tirelessly for the community, spending has been reduced and the city is thriving.

Byelection this spring

Until a byelection is held and the four vacancies on council are filled, the city is being run by the official administrator, who is serving as council. Interim CAO Pat Vincent says he believes the financial inspection should be complete and made public before the byelection.

It's a key piece of information that many people believe voters will need.

Janelle Sandboe, who ran in the last election, is eager to kick off her campaign for councillor. She says the previous group was dysfunctional and the government was right to dismiss Colvin and the others.

While Colvin says he is planning to run in the byelection, Sandboe is hoping he does.

"The province was slow and meticulous about making this decision to remove the mayor and council, but they did it mostly without resident involvement.… So now would be the opportunity for residents to say whether they agree or not, and I think that's important."

Rick Schell and Janelle Sandboe are planning to run in a byelection for city councillor in Chestermere, Alta. It will likely be held in late spring.
Rick Schell and Janelle Sandboe are planning to run in a byelection for city councillor in Chestermere, Alta. It will likely be held in late spring.

Rick Schell and Janelle Sandboe are planning to run in a byelection for city council in Chestermere. The vote will likely be held in late spring. (Bryan Labby/CBC)

Rick Schell is also considering a run for councillor. He says it's important to repair the city's relationship with the provincial government and get support for schools, roads and recreational facilities.

"It's hard to be out at odds or war with someone and then ask them for a favour," he said.

Before the election, though, Colvin is hoping to convince a judge that the province is wrong and he should be returned to the mayor's office.

"Let everything be transparent and come out, and when that happens, I'll be happy with whatever the judge says."

Justice Johanna Price reserved her decision Tuesday on the injunction.

Bryan Labby is an enterprise reporter with CBC Calgary. If you have a good story idea or tip, you can reach him at bryan.labby@cbc.ca or on X at @CBCBryan.