July 20th, 2024

Medicine Hat council sanctions mayor, strips her of powers and salary

By Collin Gallant -SOUTHERN ALBERTA NEWSPAPERS on March 22, 2024.

Medicine Hat News photo by Collin Gallant Coun. Andy McGrogan sits beside the empty mayor's chair as he reads a letter of reprimand issued to mayor Linnsie Clark at a special meeting of Medicine Hat city council on Thursday.

LETHBRIDGE HERALDcgallant@medicinehatnews.com

Medicine Hat city council has stripped Mayor Linnsie Clark of most of her remaining powers, along with half her salary, for violating council’s code of conduct during an exchange with city manager Ann Mitchell last summer.

Clark, however, says she’s seeking a legal opinion about the penalties that she described as “shocking and entirely disproportionate.”

Approved at a special meeting of council Thursday, Clark is barred from chairing future council meetings, attending administrative planning meetings, making official statements on behalf of council and restricting how she can interact with city staff. She will also have her $144,000 per year salary reduced by 50 per cent after a 7-0 vote, with Clark and Coun. Shila Sharps, the complainant, both absent.

“It will be the will of council” whether sanctions will be reviewed or lifted in the future, said Coun. Andy McGrogan, who, as acting mayor, chaired Thursday’s meeting.

He described the working relationship since the summer between Clark, council and administration as “frosty,” but that city council could still work effectively.

“The mayor is one vote; so there is still lots that can be done. We intend on moving all of our business forward.”

The penalties, believed to be among the harshest ever levelled, are outlined by the Municipal Government Act and stem from a report from an out-of-town law firm that was accepted as part of Thursday’s meeting.

Among the motions, council endorsed that Clark failed “to treat the city manager with courtesy, dignity and respect during an exchange at the Aug. 21, 2023 council meeting” when the two argued over how changes to the corporate flow chart were handled.

“I fundamentally disagree with today’s decision of council,” Clark wrote in a statement to the media. “I find council’s sanctions shocking and entirely disproportionate. I am reviewing my legal options and expect to be in a position to provide a further public response after I have done so.”

Clark, a member of the city’s solicitor’s office before taking a leave of absence to run in the 2021 municipal election, resigned the position when she won as a first-time candidate.

“I ran on a platform of change of the citizens of Medicine Hat who were concerned about administrative overreach and poor governance at city hall,” Clark said in a statement forwarded to the media. “I gave up my job as a lawyer for the city to fight for what I believe is right for Medicine Hat. That is what I did, and will continue to do that now.”

McGrogan said the report by Kingsgate Law will be made public after it is reviewed to address privacy concerns.

The motion calls for a letter of reprimand to be made public, and asks Clark to reflect and consider a “sincere apology” to Mitchell.

Clark and Sharps were not present during four hours of closed-door deliberations council held this week, the News has learned.

Going forward, a rotating schedule of councillors to chair council meetings would be developed. Council is set to hold a committee of the whole meeting next Monday to begin discussions on the 2025-26 city budget.

Over the last month council has also introduced new measures allowing councillors to approve agendas and also assume signing authority, motions introduced by Sharps.

According to the penalties, Clark can also only interact with Mitchell by email that is copied to all council members, and cannot enter some areas of city hall.

Among the sanctions and remedies imposed are:

– Suggestion, but not requirement that Clark apologize to Mitchell;

– Suspended from acting as chair to run council meetings;

– Restricted from entering staff areas at city hall or interacting with staff entirely;

– Limited communication with city manager to be conducted entirely by email, with all of council copied, or, if agreeable to the manager, in-person meetings with another member of council present;

– Barred from attending administrative committee meetings;

– Suspended from acting as the official spokesperson for council;

– A 50 per cent reduction in salary, effective immediately (the position paid $144,000 in base salary annually in 2022)

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