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Municipal inspection reveals litany of governance problems in Alberta village of Andrew

Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver has ordered the Village of Andrew’s council and chief administrative officer to follow 11 directives after finding the village has been “managed in an irregular, improper or improvident manner.”

Andrew, 110 kilometres northeast of Edmonton, is in Lamont County. The village had a population of 412 in 2022, according to provincial estimates.

Last year, the village council, which has been troubled by financial and governance problems, asked Rebecca Schulz, the municipal affairs minister at the time, for an audit.

The government paid SAGE Analytics Inc., a municipal consulting company run by Shari-Anne Doolaege, $74,000 to conduct a municipal inspection.

Doolaege reviewed the village’s bylaws, finances, taxation, fire services, and security last year and explained her findings at a city council meeting on Feb. 28.

Her 154-page report on the inspection, along with a ministerial order outlining the steps the village must follow and McIver’s reasons for his decision, have been posted on the provincial government’s website.

The inspection report identified a range of concerns, including “financial reporting, assessment, taxation and tax recovery, municipal bylaws and policies, council meeting preparation, recording of minutes, among others,” McIver’s press secretary, Scott Johnston, said in an emailed statement.

McIver’s directives are binding and meant to “return the village to good governance,” Johnston said.

In his reasons for decision, McIver said he received a written response from the village to the inspector’s report in December that did not dispute any of the findings or recommendations.

Johnston said the village has expressed a clear intent to address the report’s findings and the minister’s directives.

“Everyone knows what needs to be addressed and is working together to accomplish the direction set out,” said Kylie Rude, Andrew’s new CAO.

Rude told CBC News in an email that the village has addressed the directive that requires it to create a new procedural bylaw and has made progress on others.

The work ahead

The report contains 42 findings and 26 areas of recommendations. It says “village officials have some work ahead to improve operations and fully comply with governing legislation.”

The report concludes that the village’s governance and viability were at risk due to “a multitude of concurrent leadership challenges.”

One of the challenges was instability with the village council and administration. Three councillors resigned between May 2022 and July 2023.

And after Pat Skoreyko retired as CAO in December 2021, there was a “revolving door” of CAO appointments, the report says, with five people serving in the position in a two-year period.

A statue of a duck towers over a park with trees, grass and picnic tables.
A large statue of a mallard duck is Andrew’s most well-known landmark. (Liam Harrap/CBC )

The inspection report identifies irregularities in the way the village council, village officials and individual council members operated.

It found that the five-member village council had never passed a bylaw to increase the number of councillors from three. One of the minister’s directives relates to this finding.

The report says council suffered “internal strife,” that taxation and utility billings errors needed to be fixed, and that taxpayers were concerned about the value of village services.

“Continued ministerial oversight and guidance will be needed to ensure that village officials consider the SAGE findings and recommendations, and to help the Village of Andrew achieve strong and effective governance,” the report says.

Some of the minister’s directives require the village to review bylaws, adopt specific policies, hire an accounting firm and attend a roles and responsibilities workshop run by ministry staff.

“There were more directives in this inspection than I have typically seen,” said Ian McCormack, president of Strategic Steps Inc., a consulting company focused on municipal governance.

McCormack said completing them all will take “a tremendous amount of effort.”

‘We’re in a good place’: mayor

Osama Hamed, who owns Andrew Grocery and is a former village councillor, said he was disappointed by last week’s council meeting.

He said the report describes many mistakes made by council members and public officials but did not lead to consequences for those individuals.

“When I speed, I get a ticket, I pay a fine. When I make a mistake, I pay for it,” Hamed said.

McCormack said the municipal affairs minister has the power to dismiss the mayor and councillors, as was done following a municipal inspection for the City of Chestermere, east of Calgary, but that rarely happens.

Andrew Mayor Barry Goertz said he and his colleagues are not professional politicians and they know they were making mistakes, which is why they requested an inspection. 

“If we turn around now and make those same mistakes, then yes, I believe there should be consequences,” he told CBC News in an interview on Thursday.

A man wears a red shirt.
Mayor Barry Goertz says he and his colleagues asked for a municipal inspection because they needed help governing the village. (CBC)

Goertz said he does not think the village’s viability is at risk. 

“We’re not in a perfect place, but we’re in a good place to grow and a good place to provide a warm, healthy, happy place for our residents,” he said.

The village must report to the minister monthly on its progress until all the directives have been completed and its reports will be published on the village’s website.

The final directive must be completed by the end of this year. Rude said the goal is to meet that deadline but the village may request more time.

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