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Friday, March 18, 2016

Difficult Week for Council

As a disclaimer for the following blog, in case you do not know, I did run in the by election last year in Fort McMurray, the result was that Colleen Tatum won that seat. I wrote the following column for the Today this week, but they felt that there was a conflict of interest since I had ran against Councillor Tatum. I respect their decision and decided to publish it on my blog. I feel that I have written about our city for 11 years now, and have never been accused of not being fair, and I have always been professional enough to remove my ego or emotions from pieces that I write about politics. Over the years, many councillors, and MLAs have even become friends, and I did not always write flattering pieces about them. The perfect example would be during the time of last council, when our city decided to expropriate the downtown. Councillor Tatum was on that council, and I spoke out about the decisions to expropriate. We remained close enough friends that on the day I decided to run in the by election, I went to Colleen to tell her in person before I filed my intent to run. Moving forward, this blog will be evolving in the next few weeks. I will now be covering more about Fort McMurray, and it will become a blog that will contain ads and I will be working as an affiliate. I had looked at doing this last year, and the timing was not right. So if you have a business you want me to write about, an event, or if you have a story that you want help telling, please send me an email at vernamurphy1@gmail.com. Last year I had gone back to working in the community with the Connect, and I realized how much I missed hearing all the stories, and writing about the wonderful people who live in our region, so that was the main reason that I decided to move forward on the new blog. And now you can read my opinion on the latest council news: 


Unless you have been out of town lately, you have heard about Councillor Colleen Tatum being in breach of the Municipal Governance Act(MGA). The Act is law right across Alberta, and all municipalities have to follow it. Part of the Act states that anyone sitting on council cannot be in arrears to the municipality which they represent for more than $50 and 90 days. Tatum breached both when she went in arrears on her taxes to the tune of $6700.00. 

This week at council, the following motion was made: “That the Regional Solicitor be instructed to cause an application to be made to a judge of the Court of Queen’s Bench supported by relevant and material evidence, for an order determining whether Councillor Tatum has ceased to be qualified to remain a Councillor pursuant to the provisions of section 174(1)(b) of the Municipal Government Act and section 22(1)(c) of the Local Authorities Election Act.” All this means is that the decision on whether Tatum should be disqualified or not will be sent to a judge. Council voted, and Julia Cardinal was missing for the vote, and Tatum also did not participate. Jane Stroud was the only councillor to vote against the motion, stating that she would rather see sanctions be brought against Tatum. 

Council really did not have any choice in this matter, as was shown by the almost unanimous vote. For the last two years the words “transparency” and “accountability” have been thrown around, to a point where even I was getting sick of the terms. If council had not sent it to a judge, it could be said that they all think they are above the law and will cover for each other. Sending it to the judge was the most transparent way for the decision to be made for the public to hear all the evidence that will be presented in the case.  Besides, if council had let this “slide by” what other laws are they willing to break and then overlook?

I was wavering on even writing a column about this topic. Why? Because like her fellow councillors, I like Tatum. But if we ignored the law for everyone that we like, every son that committed a crime would be off because his mother would be able to plead their case without fault. It was not until I heard Councillor Tatum on the radio doing the McMurray Matters show that I no longer wavered. 

During that interview Tatum said that she did not know about this law, and if that is really true, than that shows her incompetence. I know for a fact that when she filed her nomination papers she was given a package where it was clearly stated that candidates had to be sure about their taxes, and this specific law. On top of that, our statutory declaration in the nomination papers again was specific about this law. And on top of all that, during the candidate information sessions municipal administration went over this rule because they did not want to have any issues, especially given the fact that Guy Boutilier had  just resigned over questions about his residency. It was very black and white. But during the interview Tatum said that she didn’t know, and that she was given a lot of papers to read. If she didn’t bother to read those papers, what other papers is she not reading when making decisions for our city? She then went on to say that she gives her mail to her assistant, but when you swear to uphold that council seat on the day you are sworn in, then you cover your bases and make sure you are eligible to sit in that seat. 

Council did not bring this forward, and they did absolutely nothing to provoke this issue what so ever. So for them to be blamed for forcing this issue is totally and completely unfair. The mayor has stated that she found out, and brought it to Tatum’s attention. It was only over a week later that the other councillors even found out. This must have been a very hard decision for them.It would have been easier to try to appease those that like Tatum and just impose sanctions. I am sure they are worried about how they look to the public as well, they don’t want to look like a bunch of meanies. So good on them for wanting to uphold the law. 

Councillor Tatum has also used the case in Red Deer as a reference. Councillor Paul Harris was a partial owner of a business there that went behind in it’s business taxes, and the day that he found out, he paid in full. The council there decided to impose sanctions on the councillor when he did not resign. The difference is for Tatum it is her property taxes. But what Tatum failed to mention when she used that case as an example was that there was a huge public outcry. The reporter that I spoke with said that many called for the councillor to resign, and that when council did not send it to the judge people then said that they were a bunch of crooks who were covering for each other. 

There is a bigger picture here that people are forgetting. Our city is currently still trying to shake off the image of being corrupt, and is trying hard to start developing our downtown. Outside investors are still very much watching how we run our city. It cannot appear now that we are still not willing to follow the laws that the rest of the province does on a daily basis. It’s all very sad really, I feel bad that Mayor Blake and the council members have been put into such a difficult position. 

Tatum forced the issue to court by not resigning as is required by law under the MGA. Period. And like many, I wonder now how competent she is on council if she is not able to read and follow the law that was laid out very clearly for her twice now when she filed to run for that seat. She would have had my vote next year if she had admitted her mistake and resigned and then ran in the next general election. Instead she has lost my confidence.