PHOTOS: Supporters of the St. Albert Public Library gathered for a reception in the crowded downtown facility in 2015. Below: St. Albert City Councillors Bob Russell (Photo: City of St. Albert), Cathy Heron (Photo: Twitter) and Cam MacKay.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
Surely St. Albert City Council should get the city’s branch library project back on track now that the petition opposing borrowing money for the project has been ruled invalid.
Yesterday, the City of St. Albert’s communications department issued a short media advisory stating that city officials had completed their review of the petition that was presented to City Council on May 15 and had discovered an insufficient number of names on it meet the standards for a valid petition required by the Alberta Municipal Government Act.
“The review has concluded the petition does not meet the requirement that it contain a minimum of 6,465 valid signatures, which is equal to 10 per cent of St. Albert’s population,” the media advisory said.
As reported in local media after the petition’s organizers handed the document over to council, there were close to 6,700 names on the document – 6,696 to be precise.
However, the city’s media advisory stated, “at least 588 of those signatures are invalid.”
For the petition to meet the legal test set out in the Act, it could contain no more than 231 invalid signatures.
Under the terms of the province’s law, all signatures on a legal petition of this sort must be witnessed by a person prepared to swear an affidavit “that to the best of the person’s knowledge the signatures witnessed are those of persons entitled to sign the petition.”
In the case of the St. Albert petition, 588 signatures were signed after the date of each respective witness’s affidavit. “No subsequent affidavits were submitted referring to the additional signatures, which means those additional signatures are invalid,” the statement to media says. In addition, a page with 17 signatures did not have an affidavit.
“As a result, the requirement for the petition to contain at least 6,465 valid signatures was not met,” concluded the statement, which named as contacts City Manager Kevin Scoble and Chief Legislative Officer Chris Belke.
Obviously, city councillors’ praise for the hard work of the petition organizers after the May 15 council meeting was premature, since they in fact had not done the work necessary to produce a valid petition in the time required by law.
Council members unanimously passed a budget that included $17.2 million for the new branch library in November 2016. At the time, city officials were directed to prepare a borrowing bylaw for the project.
In April this year, the bylaw was amended to allow the city to borrow up to $21.9 million for the much needed facility – a figure apparently picked by Mayor Nolan Crouse and agreed to by council when city officials recommended a contingency fund so a second bylaw wouldn’t be required if funds unexpected rose. It was that number that seemed to get the petitioners going. Mr. Crouse has said he will not seek reelection in October.
Three members of city council have been consistent in their recent opposition to the project, which enjoys broad community support despite a cadre of vocal opponents.
Bob Russell, Sheena Hughes and Cam MacKay – all endorsed in the 2013 municipal election by third-party organizations with unclear sources of financing and names like the “St. Albert Think Tank” – have spoken in favour of sidelining the project. Ms. Hughes and Mr. MacKay were elected in 2013, Mr. MacKay for the second time. Mr. Russell was elected in a 2015 by-election.
Mr. Russell, now 88 and apparently planning to run for re-election in October, got so annoyed with calls from voters seeking more library funds that he famously vowed during a 2015 city council meeting that for every email he received from a citizen backing the library, “I will deduct the amount of money I would have voted for this provincial library by 100 bucks.”
In a recent social media post, Councillor Cathy Heron described emails she has received from library opponents as “vile” and “nasty,” saying, “I have had emails with the words: “stupid, dildo, elitist, con artist, liar, greedy politician…”
She said she expects things to get worse before the October 2017 municipal election if the same type of third-party groups play an active role again. “Some of the third-party promoters of certain candidates really made it nasty,” she told the local twice-weekly newspaper.
Last night at its regular weekly meeting, City Council could have done the right thing and proceeded directly to second and third reading of the bylaw since the deficient petition had obviously failed to make the cut. Instead, members took the easy road and kicked it back to the administration for a recommendation on July 10.
That recommendation should be, “Let’s proceed with this great project.” Failing that, for that it’s worth, my recommendation to the good people of St. Albert would be, “Let’s proceed with electing an entirely new city council.”