More secrecy emerges over land decision

Chris Clegg
South Peace News

There should be no confusion about the decision from High Prairie town council to not purchase the old High Prairie Health Complex land last year, said several councillors at a special council meeting April 4.

“I don’t know where the confusion came from,” said Councillor John Dunn.

His statement was supported by Councillor Therese Yacysyhn.

However, without a proper motion, which council cannot provide, the public still wonders who actually made the decision. Council is supposed to make decisions by resolution (motions), not discussion.

Alberta Health Services offered the land to council for $148,00 in April 2023. On May 18, 2023 CAO Bill McKennan wrote AHS telling them AHS’s offer was refused.

All this was done in secret without the public knowing what was going on. It was not until September 2023 that South Peace News broke the story when the land was put up for public bid by the government.

Today, there are still no minutes or motions from council meetings presented to the public to back councillors’ claims. Citizens and South Peace News have requested to see motions for months with none being provided.

At the April 4 meeting, in an effort to clear the air, Mayor Brian Panasiuk said a lot of the discussion about the property occurred at a meeting April 22, 2023.

“That’s where a lot of those discussions took place,” he said.

“That’s my recollection of this but I could be wrong,” he added.

“For me, who made the decision. . .it was definitely council,” said Panasiuk, referring to accusations CAO Bill McKennan made the decision.

McKennan later supported Panasiuk’s statement saying he was “directed” by council to refuse the purchase, but he never said there was an actual motion.

McKennan also disputed a claim made by citizens supporting three recall petitions that the Town made an offer of $300,000 for the land.

“It was substantially below that,” said McKennan.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from.”

However, that decision was reached in September, far from the April and May dates when the offer was first refused.

Dunn released another detail of the discussion April 22, 2023.

“The CAO was the one person who recommended we buy that property.”

Councillor Donna Deynaka added every councillor was present for every discussion either in person or by Zoom.

“I believe, from the start, we were never in favour of purchasing that land,” she said.

However, new issues regarding secrecy and transparency have arisen. As of April 7, 2024, the Town has not posted the agenda of the April 22, 2023 special meeting, nor minutes of the meeting, on its website, as they regularly do. In 2023, minutes from the special meeting of Sept. 7 and Nov. 30, 2023 have been posted, but not April 22.

Also, the next regular meeting of council was May 9, 2023. It was when the minutes of the April 22 meeting should have been approved. Council did approve minutes from the April 25 regular meeting but there was no mention of the April 22 special meeting, thus no approval of the minutes. The April 25 minutes do not appear on the Town’s website but April 11 and May 23 do.

The May 9, 2023 meeting minutes do appear on the May 23 agenda. The minutes were approved as presented with no mention of the April 22 meeting.

South Peace News contacted Panasiuk, McKennan, and council April 5 and April 7 by email to provide each an opportunity to explain why no motions were made, why the CAO acted without a motion, and why the lack of a published agenda or minutes exists regarding the April 22 meeting. By 3 p.m. on April 7 no one had responded.

At the April 4 meeting, Councillor Sacha Martens did question the lack of a motion regarding the decision to not purchase the property and subsequent email sent to AHS by McKennan.

“No government institution would ask a CAO to make a decision, they would ask council,” she said.

But council now admits making no motion.

Martens, Councillor Judy Stenhouse, Deynaka and Councillor James Waikle are also on record as saying they did not know about the $148,00 offer in April 2023 and into May 2023 when McKennan sent the email refusing the offer. Panasiuk, Dunn and Yacyshyn were careful to avoid answering that precise question at the April 4 meeting.

Council may or may not provide proof of expense claims to verify the April 22 meeting.

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