Decision shrouded in secrecy

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

A decision to not purchase the old High Prairie Health Complex land for $148,000 in May 2023 was made with the majority of council not being informed of the offer.

It raises questions about who made the decision to not pursue buying the land and who exactly is making decisions which should be made by the elected officials, that being the majority of the elected council of the Town of High Prairie.

To date, not one member of council is revealing who made the decision.

In the Sept. 20, 2023 South Peace News, it was revealed by Diana Rinne, senior communications advisor, Alberta Health Services, North Zone, the deal was offered.

“AHS offered the property to the Town of High Prairie in April 2023 for approximately $150,000 (later found out to be $148,000). The Town of High Prairie was notified on Aug. 11, 2023, the property would be listed for sale in the near future. The property was listed for sale Sept. 8, 2023,” wrote Rinne.

Cox and South Peace News both wrote Alberta Municipal Affairs Minister Ric McIver about the same time inquiring about the deal. McIver responded to Cox March 14 but not to South Peace News.

“With respect to the purchase of the former High Prairie Health Complex property, Minister LaGrange has shared that Alberta Health Services (AHS) was in communication with town administration over the potential purchase of the property,” wrote McIver.

“On May 18, 2023, AHS was advised that the Town would not pursue purchasing the property, allowing AHS to proceed with the sale of the lands. As such, the property was put up for sale and sold. It is my understanding the town submitted an offer that was lower than the anticipated bid.”

The entire letter from McIver to Cox is published on page 7.

McIver did not state which member of “town administration” was spoken to by AHS.

South Peace News has asked both McIver, Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasuk and councillors for a copy of the letter and/or email to see who signed it and refused the offer on behalf of the Town. Requests have been ignored.

Meanwhile, AHS’s offer to the Town and subsequent refusal of the deal were never made public to the people of High Prairie by its town council or the provincial government. It was only in September 2023 shortly after the land was listed that the April offer was made public in a story by South Peace News. It was five months after the offer was made and four months after it was refused by the Town.

All done in secret without the public’s knowledge.

Now, apparently, most of council did not know about the April offer and subsequent deal.

Councillor Donna Deynaka and Councillor James Waikle told resident Sharon Cox first contact was in September 2023; therefore, they could not possibly be aware of the April offer.

“Councillors Deynaka and Waikle, they were both adamant that first contact was September 2023,” wrote Cox in a letter to the editor in the Feb. 14 South Peace News.

When asked about the claim in Cox’s letter in several emails, neither Deynaka or Waikle denied making the statement. In fact, they did not respond to the question.

However, Waikle did respond in an earlier text on Feb. 4.

“If I remember correctly, we voted in September to go ahead with the purchase, but the government rejected our offer. Prior to that there was not a vote that I can remember (missed a couple meetings, may have been then), but we always wanted administration to pursue the purchase,” wrote Waikle.

Waikle makes no reference of being aware of the April offer thereby supporting statements he later made to Cox. He has also expressed no concern publicly the offer was refused May 18, 2023.

March 22, Councillor Sacha Martens (making it clear she was speaking on her behalf only) wrote South Peace News saying she also did not know about the $148,000 offer until September 2023.

“September 2023, as reflected in our written records (minutes),” wrote Martens referring to when she first became aware.

She also offered the following.

“I have looked through minutes in April and May. I did not find minutes that mention the hospital lands coming out of an in-camera (closed) session.”

The next day, March 23, Councillor Judy Stenhouse did the same.

“I want to know who made the decision,” said Stenhouse, adding she has asked for minutes to prove when the decision was made which have not been provided to her.

“There is nothing on the record,” she added saying like Martens, she checked minutes.

“The only time I can recall is September,” concluded Stenhouse.

What that means is that a minority of council appeared to make the decision to not purchase the land. When the question was put to Panasiuk who made the decision he did not respond.

Panasiuk, as well as Councillor John Dunn and Councillor Therese Yacyshyn, also did not respond to the question if they knew about the $148,000 offer in April 2023.

So, who made the decision to refuse to buy is anyone’s guess.

Panasiuk did write to Cox and also sent the letter to South Peace News the following:

“The Town has had numerous decisions at the administrative level with staff from AHS and the Town. There were prior emails but to our knowledge no formal letter was sent to council regarding potential acquisition,” wrote Panasiuk.

It begs the question: “How could the Town of High Prairie decline an offer May 18, 2023 when (Panasiuk) is on record saying the Town had no formal letter regarding a potential acquisition,” South Peace News asked Panasiuk and council March 23.

Panasiuk nor council has responded.

Council was also asked why they are not concerned the land offer was refused in April 2023 when it is now apparent most of council did not know about the offer. Stenhouse wants to know who made the decision. Martens adds she does not have concrete information to respond.

“I trust that administration can clarify so we can get this matter resolved,” she wrote.

In a message from town council published in the Jan. 31 South Peace News, council stated the following:

“Council strives to maintain and open and transparent disclosure of information to our ratepayers.”

However, council did not disclose the April offer by AHS in April 2023, refusal of the offer May 18, 2023, nor did the majority of councillors admit on the record they did not know about the offer until September 2023 when first reported. Questions about how the decision was made and by whom are still left unanswered.

South Peace News will publish answers from Panasiuk, Deynaka and Yacyshyn if they knew about the offer in April 2023 when received.

South Peace News has also asked Panasiuk why information such as the land offer is not being shared with the entire council. He has declined to respond.

Sharing of information amongst all members of council is a requirement to ensure proper debate occurs and decisions are made by the majority of council.

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