By Jensen, Randy on October 1, 2020.
Lethbridge Herald – Coaldale
A group of concerned citizens led by a former councillor will be starting a petition to ask the Minister of Municipal Affairs to conduct an independent municipal inspection of the operations and administration of the Town of Coaldale.
Former councillor Jack Van Rijn, who is representing the group calling itself Citizens For A Better Coaldale, said the municipal inspection was absolutely vital as the Town’s elected representatives and administrators had lost the trust of many citizens in the community due to lack of public input on the community’s proposed new school/rec. centre site, and on its plans to build a new Civic Square within the community to replace the current town hall.
“I think the Town of Coaldale is very broken since several large projects have been coming up,” Van Rijn confirmed. “The first one was the new high school/recreation centre. The public engagement formula was not adhered to in its entirety. They met very basic requirements as per the Municipal Government Act.
“There is also no public consultation on the Civic Square project,” he added. “They say repeatedly they put it into the public domain, but all it is is a line item on a capital budget sheet. There is no description on what it is going to be. The only way we found out about it was through a provincial website where they posted an expression for interest trying to find contractors or investors who would look at working with them on this project.”
Van Rijn formally made the municipal inspection proposal to council during Monday night’s regular meeting, and asked that Mayor Kim Craig and other councillors join his group in supporting it.
“I was offering them an olive branch,” said Van Rijn. “I was giving them the opportunity to work together on a municipal inspection as a kind of a review of our concerns. Instead Mayor Craig labelled it as an attack for political campaigning motivations, which is ridiculous.”
Craig confirmed, indeed, no one on council took Van Rijn’s proposal as the gesture of co-operation he claimed, because it was fairly obvious it wasn’t.
“It smells like a political end-run of these duly-elected council members from a group of citizens that didn’t get their way,” he said bluntly. “We feel this request for a municipal review is a tool being used by this group to put a pause on what we are trying to do, and they have a track record of trying to put a stop to plans that town council has that this group doesn’t like. And some of that group is populated by people infected with not-in-my-backyard syndrome.”
Craig said he has not seen one shred of concrete evidence from anyone in the Citizens For A Better Coaldale group of any specific improprieties associated with any decision he and his fellow councillors have made regarding the community’s capital plan or otherwise. He said it is customary and recommended under the Municipal Government Act when a town council is dealing with land purchases, legal actions or labour issues to hold these discussions in closed session so as to protect the integrity of the process. He also said the draft rendering of the proposed Civic Square has been up on the Town website for all to view, contrary to what Van Rijn has claimed.
“Council has more or less come to the realization that this group wants to put a pause on all of our capital plans,” he said, “even though we have been transparent about them for the last two years at a minimum, and some were even conceptualized prior to that. We are finding it very time-consuming and frustrating that a small group like this is demanding so much air time when there are other groups in Coaldale that also have good Facebook followings.”
Van Rijn insists many complaints have been brought forth to councillors and Town staff from his group, and others, over the past two years and have been met with bullying tactics, attempted intimidation, and an ongoing lack of transparency on projects funded by taxpayers. And since council has refused to take these complaints seriously, Van Rijn said, he and his group will do what they have to do and start an official petition, which requires 20 per cent community support, to bring in the Ministry of Municipal Affairs to force a municipal inspection.
“People feel misled, including myself,” confirmed Van Rijn. “They are deceived, betrayed, manipulated and dismissed by members of council when these and other concerns are voiced.”
Craig said Van Rijn and Citizens For A Better Coaldale will do what they feel they have to do to push their agenda forward, but he hoped they would pause and think about the repercussions of their actions on the community as a whole.
“I would hope that group would really seriously consider the consequences of starting a petition for a municipal inspection, and the consequences that negative action would be having on the ability of the Town to ever get funding for a new school in the coming years or decades,” he stated.
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