List of reasons for recall released

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

One of the burning questions regarding the recall petitions filed against Town of High Prairie Mayor Brian Panasiuk, Councillor Donna Deynaka and Councillor James Waikle was, “Why only three and not the other councillors?”

The group have come forward publicly with their reason for naming only three of seven members of council.

“The three on the petition have had the most council experience out of all the councillors and have served over three terms each,” says Tammy Kaleta, acting as spokesperson for the group.

A separate petition exists to remove each member of council.

The group released a list of their concerns March 28. South Peace News was sent a copy as was Premier Danielle Smith, Alberta Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver, Lesser Slave Lake MLA Scott Sinclair, Panasiuk, Deynaka, Waikle, and councillors John Dunn, Sacha Martens, Judy Stenhouse, and Therese Yacyshyn.

Actions from council disturb the citizens while on other matters, answers from council are not being provided to the group’s satisfaction. They include:

  • Council has allowed six CAOs employed at the town office in 2 1/2 years.
  • A former CAO (not the current CAO, Bill McKennan) did not release the payout from the taxpayers involving the hiring and dismissal of Sherry Poole. Panasiuk revealed there was payout at the July 26, 2022 meeting.
  • At a council meeting Feb. 27, council refused to encourage McKennan to disclose his earnings when requested by a public delegation. Instead, McKennan told the delegation to “look it up” on the Town’s website, adding it was public information. If it was public, the group contends, why not simply disclose the earnings?

“When this is public information and (council) allowed the CAO to disrespect the public delegations. . .,” says Kaleta.

  • Too many in-camera (now called closed sessions), where business is conducted without public knowledge on topics that are not a concern of Division 2 Part 1 of the FOIP Act. They cite public delegation Dan Vandermeulen’s statements at the Feb. 27 meeting.
  • Regarding the special meeting of council Sept 7, 2023, a request for minutes approval occurred at the March 26 meeting. Kaleta says no councillor could remember the meeting but still approved the minutes requested by CAO.
  • Charges that CAO McKennan buries costs of operations by allowing groupings of payments, i.e. that $10,000 was requested from the Town of Slave Lake for the Rural Renew Stream Program at the Feb. 27 council meeting.

“The line item on the operating budget – tracking and allocation sheet reflects $15,000 to the Rural Renew Stream. When questioned, the CAO indicated he lumped website and IT into the heading for $5,000. There are no line items in any budgets to reflect actual costs and disbursements or groupings of payment allocations,” says Kaleta.

  • Concerns over a copyright/trademarked document from Kneehill County to be submitted as a comprehensive capital budget for January 2024 for the Town of High Prairie. The document had High Prairie information cut and paste into it but still has the Kneehill County logos on most pages.

McKennan told the delegation at the meeting he was the author of that document.

  • Directed McKennan to email the minister to decline Alberta Health Services’ offer of the sale of old hospital land for $148,000 prior to May 18, 2023. Only two councillors and the mayor (Dunn, Yacyshyn and Panasiuk) knew about the offer in April 2023 (as of the council meeting March 26, 2024), but four councillors have admitted they did not know about AHS’s offer to sell in April 2023.
  • When the offer for the hospital land expired about four months later (council was notified on Aug. 11 the deal was no longer available) the Town of High Prairie then put a bid in for the property at $300,000. Council never told the public about the offer or subsequent refusal to not buy the land.
  • The son of the CAO (Colin McKennan) was hired as accounts payable and development clerk.
  • A motion made by Deynaka to give CAO McKennan his second raise hike of 17 per cent to the top of the salary grid at over $151,000, and hired him on a five-year contract after only 15 months of employment.
  • Amendments, special meetings and minutes to be added/altered without council’s knowledge or approval (council meeting YouTube March 12.)
  • At the March 12 meeting, Stenhouse said she did not remember making a specific motion. Waikle suggested to table the matter pending clarification. CAO McKennan replied to approve the minutes as presented and he would change the motion, if required, after checking the tape.
  • CAO McKennan has prolonged the development of a purchase order system after the theft of Town property was discovered and revealed to the Town Jan. 9, by store owner Ron Shunter of POPS Home Hardware.
  • The individual who allegedly committed the theft was charged, Panasiuk told a delegation at the Feb. 27 meeting when in fact he had not been charged. Panasiuk later called it a “misunderstanding.”
  • CAO McKennan to turned down the rent/use of a public facility (Gordon Buchanan Recreation Centre) to East Prairie Metis Settlement during the wildfires in 2023.
  • CAO McKennan to move the tax sale of land from Nov 13, 2023 at 2 p.m. to Nov 27 without notification to the public. It was only posted on the Municipal Government site and South Peace News. Not on the date set and requested by the CAO at a request for decision on Sept. 12. The CAO was questioned at the Feb. 27 town council meeting about the advertising and he insisted it was listed with all the realty companies in town.
  • Concerns over various land deals.
  • Staff to use Town trucks as personal vehicles, and has allowed the CAO to use a V8 unit with no Town decals on it.
  • Yacyshyn to move that “Council direct administration to retain a third party to investigate potential violation to the Council Code of Conduct” without a formal written complaint about any person as per Bylaw No. 09-2022. The investigation to be conducted (at taxpayer’s cost) that does not follow the Code of Conduct Bylaw No. 09-2022. The misconduct code referenced to the councillors after investigation was ADM 01-2020. ADM 01-2020 cannot be found on the Town website in policies or bylaws.
  • Waikle to sign the investigation complaint after the investigator found “potential” of misconduct, instead of supplying the “complaint first” as per Bylaw 09-2022 19.1 in the Formal Complaint process to initiate the investigation.
  • The CAO exhibits lateral violence and verbal bullying to councillors when he doesn’t want to engage in communications with them. (request for in-camera session March 26 meeting recorded on YouTube opening minutes. McKennan states if it is about him, then they can only talk about his contract or performance, other communications need to go through a lawyer.
  • The CAO chastised Stenhouse for not signing the form for the new ATB Bank account and requesting her leave it with town staff. Stenhouse reported she had delivered it directly to the new bank. YouTube video Feb 27.) The CAO indicated she should have her signing privileges removed because of her not wanting her private information left with town staff.

Council was asked to resign in its entirety at the Feb. 13 meeting.

On Feb. 16 at about 9:20 a.m., a recall petition was filed to remove Panasiuk, Donna Deynaka and Waikle. The petition was presented to CAO McKennan.

Darcy Foster filed the petition and paid $1,500 fee ($500 for each name on three separate petitions) on behalf of concerned citizens while Jacob Donahue attended as a witness, although he added on social media he does support the petition.

No one from council has resigned.

Regarding the petition, only Waikle responded to requests for comments from South Peace News with Panasiuk and Deynaka remaining silent.

“There is a process in place and I will wait to see what the results of that process are,” Waikle emailed to South Peace News Feb. 16.

At the Feb. 13, meeting, Ron Shunter asked Councillor John Dunn to resign.

“He’s gotta go,” said Hunter, asking for a motion from council.

The request drew a chuckle from Panasiuk, replying it was a funny motion.

“No, it’s not,” stated Lori McKay.

Dunn responded in an email he has no intentions of resigning.

“. . .I am not resigning and have no intention of resigning. I will talk with the individual that asked for my resignation and determine what information he was basing his request on.”

Dunn then questioned the motives behind the request.

“What I am amazed at is that just as our town is starting to see economic growth and development there are people that are trying to build barriers to that success.”

Dunn said virtually nothing regarding people’s concerns at the Feb. 13 meeting, instead letting Panasiuk and CAO Bill McKennan speak while not engaging with the public.

Dunn has since met with Shunter to address concerns.

At the meeting, Tammy Kaleta also asked council to resign.

“I have no confidence,” she said.

“All of you should be resigning,” she said to a round of applause.

Foster hopes people will consider signing the petition so the public can go about correcting the issues that have arisen that Panasiuk, and most councillors, have refused to address or take accountability for, he wrote in a social media post.

“If the councillors who have continued to support poor decisions that have been made would do the right thing, we won’t have to go through this costly process of time and effort to make the necessary changes,” Foster wrote.

“Whether they do or not this process is going through and the community’s concerns will be addressed properly. There will be no more dismissing the citizens of this community as has occurred up until today.”

The 60-day period to acquire the 952 signatures began Feb. 23 and ends April 22.

Editor’s note: In regard to many of the issues and/or allegations in this story by the concerned citizens, South Peace News has attempted to get answers by questioning council. Many of the emails have not been answered at time of publication.

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