Coaldale citizens’ revolt prompts province to review town’s governance

At the centre of a push for government-appointed independent inspection are concerns over how a Civic Square-Town Centre building initially priced at $8 million was approved

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The province will review how the Town of Coaldale is run, prompted by a petition accusing leaders of abuse of power.

But activists who say they’re fed up with how the town has handled employee claims of mistreatment and major projects say they hope Coaldale will be subjected to a full independent inspection and not just a promised preliminary review.

“It’s about a lack of transparency and communication between the citizens and the Town of Coaldale,” said Jack Van Rijn of the group Citizens For a Better Coaldale.

“People feel bullied, silenced, intimidated, misled, deceived, bewildered and exhausted to the point of giving up, moving and some even feel threatened by administration.”

At the centre of a push for a government-appointed independent inspection are concerns over how a Civic Square-Town Centre building initially priced at $8 million was approved in the town 230 kilometres southeast of Calgary.

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Critics question its expense given the need for new recreational facilities, including a swimming pool.

There are also doubts about an investigation into allegations of mistreatment of town staff that critics say was manipulated and poorly conducted by town administrators.

“The town thought they’d mitigate that by doing their own investigation but they wouldn’t allow the (affected) employees to speak to it — they never directly notified anybody,” said Van Rijn.

Former town facility maintenance worker staffer Kris Mikado said ex-employees with grievances were never contacted by the town, which briefly posted online notices of the investigation that were seen by few.

“Unfortunately, I have had to watch good, hard working people be forced out of an organization they loved, all feeling unfairly treated by town management. Most of these individuals were highly valuable and knowledgeable, long-serving employees,” said Mikado, who was employed by the town for 10 years until 2020.

Concerns that have been brewing for the past three years led to a petition that collected 2,334 signatures, well over the 20 per cent threshold needed to possibly prompt an inspection of how the town of 8,700 people is run.

“The fact more people signed the petition than voted in the 2017 municipal election speaks volumes in itself,” said Van Rijn.

Since the petition was sent to the province last December, he said the town — which has refused to endorse a municipal inspection — has become much more communicative.

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But that’s not sufficient to banish concerns about how the town is handling major issues that involve abuse of taxpayer money and employees, said Van Rijn.

“It’s nowhere near enough — it’s the fact they’re spending millions and millions of dollars without public consultation,” he said.

“Many people feel it’s like the Wild West and there is no sheriff in town to watch over town council and administrators.”

Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig didn’t respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Municipal affairs officials will interview petitioners and Town of Coaldale representatives next month to better understand complaints, said Minister Ric McIver’s press secretary Mckenzie Kibler.

If an inspection is ordered, “The full cost of the inspection may be charged back to the municipality . . . depending on the complexity of issues, inspection costs range between $50,000 to $80,000,” said Kibler.

The most recent completed inspection reports ordered by the ministry, whose recommendations aren’t binding, were two in 2018 and eight in 2017.

Mikado said he hopes any municipal inspection would change the town’s culture of accountability.

“I hope that the town management finally takes this whole situation seriously and start working together as a team instead of working against its employees…a small amount of accountability and transparency goes a long way,” he said.

BKaufmann@postmedia.com

Twitter: @Billkaufmannjrn


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