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Alberta government orders changes to county after report finds problems

THORHILD, Alta. — Alberta is shaking up the government of a small community north of Edmonton after a review found its council was failing as a leadership body.

Last summer residents of Thorhild County petitioned the province for an inquiry into the conduct of council and its chief administrative officer.

A report commissioned by the municipal affairs department found laws were not being followed, biased decision making, bad spending practises and poor working relationships among some councillors.

Some examples of poor behaviour included open animosity and personality conflicts between councillors, including an invitation to "settle conflicts outside" — which was taken as a threat to fight.

In what the government is calling a rare move, the department has issued 14 ministerial directives to fix the problems, including ordering the council to revoke the appointment of its chief administrative officer and for one councillor to step down.

Municipal Affairs Minister Deron Bilous said the changes will help ensure the council is following the Municipal Government Act and acting in the best interest of the county's 3,400 residents.

"The folks up their want to get back on track. Municipal affairs will be working closely with them to ensure (the directives) are followed," Bilous said Wednesday. "Faith will be restored in the County of Thorhild."

Concerns identified in the report by Russell Farmer and Associates Consulting Inc. include a county decision to levy significantly higher taxes for the Hamlet of Thorhild than for other hamlets in the municipality.

The report also cited a dispute over news coverage of the county by the Redwater Review newspaper.

Some councillors weren't happy with the coverage, so earlier this year council voted to pay the Westlock News $58,000 to distribute in the county and move all county advertising over to the outside paper.

"Residents have objected to the cost of the contract on the basis that the previous service provider was free," the report says.

"While this contract does fall within the power of council, we view it as an irregular governance practice. Elected officials should not use the power of the public purse as a means to control a free media."

John Cotter, The Canadian Press

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