High Prairie council considering mediation to settle differences

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

Repeated pleas for High Prairie town council to go through mediation to settle their differences fell upon deaf ears recently, and instead council has spent at least $17,000 and counting so far on the recently-released SAGE report.

Now, it appears council may hire a mediator which leaves one councillor questioning if they didn’t get their previous actions backwards.

Councillor Donna Deynaka said the mediation suggestion and SAGE Report “were backwards” during lengthy discussion at council’s meeting June 25. She is questioning the decision to spend taxpayer’s money on the SAGE Report instead of going to mediation first.

The SAGE Report released June 3 found Councillor Sacha Martens and Councillor Judy Stenhouse violated council policy prompting the rest of council (Mayor Brian Panasiuk, and councillors Deynaka, John Dunn, James Waikle and Therese Yacyshyn) to lower the boom and suspend them from committees for the rest of the year.

Deynaka suggested trying another avenue first to avoid mediation.

“I’d really like to hash this out at the committee-of-the-whole meeting July 13,” said Deynaka.

It is what council has decided to do for now but mediation remains a possibility.

Martens brought up the matter asking why council has set a “double standard” when it comes to dealing with themselves. She said all members of council were guilty of violations of policy but did not go into specifics.

“I think we still need to have discussions on mediation,” said Martens, adding it may be the best way for council to move forward.

She then motioned asked council to reinstate her and Stenhouse from the committees they were suspended from until the end of the year but her motion was defeated.

Stenhouse asked what the cost of mediation would be to taxpayers.

Panasiuk replied council “may” get a grant to offset costs.

“I don’t know what else I can tell you,” he added, while providing no estimate of the cost of mediation. It may be available at the next council meeting.

Martens asked the rest of council if anything “productive” is coming from the suspensions.

“It doesn’t prove anything. It’s not productive,” she said.

Martens was suspended from attending the Lesser Slave Watershed’s annual general meeting June 20. Her alternate, Deynaka, did not attend.

South Peace News asked mayor and council in an email why not one attended but no one responded. Council earlier deemed it important to send a representative to the meetings. When councillors are suspended from committees it is normal practice for others to assume responsibility and pick up the slack.

Deynaka somewhat agreed with Martens.

“The more I think about that, what purpose does that serve?” she asked.

“Does it accomplish anything? I don’t know. That’s sort of where I’m struggling.”

Deynaka provided no reason for her absence at the watershed’s AGM, nor was she asked by council.

Instead of mediation, Martens asked council to ask their questions now.

“I’m not willing to wait six months,” she said.

Panasiuk wanted no part of her suggestion

“This is not the venue to go into each and every one of those,” he said.

“I’d like to have mediation first,” said Waikle.

“That won’t take six months. I think it’s important that we have that mediation. We’re all a little set in our ways. A mediator would help us bridge those gaps . . . get that hashed out and make a decision from there.”

Regarding the suspensions of Martens and Stenhouse, Waikle added “those were recommendations in the report.”

However, Waikle and the rest of council still chooses to ignore the 2012 Harold Johnsrude Report Recommendation 43 which strongly suggested mayor and council provide written reports at meetings. No written reports were included in the most recent agenda package which seems to strengthen Martens’ claims of a double standard being set by council on different issues. In this case, to agree to recommendations in the SAGE Report but ignore the Johnsrude Report.

It was when Deynaka wondered if the SAGE Report and suggestion for mediation were backwards.

“I’ve asked and asked and asked (for mediation),” Martens told Deynaka.

“I was pummelled by everyone.”

No one disputed Martens’ claim.

Councillor Therese Yacyshyn also favoured a discussion at the committee-of-the-whole, citing good communication was the key.

A motion to reinstate Martens and Stenhouse to their committees was defeated 5-2 with only Martens and Stenhouse voting in favour.

In regard to committee meetings council has missed in the absence of Martens and Stenhouse, Panasiuk suggested alternates could be appointed. He did not answer why appointments did not immediately occur when the two Martens and Stenhouse were suspended.

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