With 588 invalid signatures, petition to St. Albert City Council opposing borrowing bylaw for library ruled invalid

Posted on June 13, 2017, 2:35 am
6 mins

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.”

10 Comments to: With 588 invalid signatures, petition to St. Albert City Council opposing borrowing bylaw for library ruled invalid

  1. Shayne Kawalilak

    June 13th, 2017

    There appears to be a dramatic lack of common sense in our council. This is clearly NOT a great project as it solves few few of our problems without causing huge issues for the residents. Did the city even consider the alternative ideas that the public brought forward in 2016?

  2. Vox Populi Sanctus Albertus

    June 13th, 2017

    The tone on city council has declined noticeably since Big Bobby Clobber managed to sneak back in through a by-election in which almost nobody voted. Up till then, Cam MacKay and Sheena Hughes behaved themselves most of the time. The tone is now disgraceful. All three of these people deserve to be removed from office.

    • St Albertan

      June 13th, 2017

      I disagree with your characterization of Cam and Sheena (I have never met Bob). To me they represent their constituents very well and although I acknowledge that they have an agenda, I believe that agenda is a valuable one. What government is responsible, unless some of the representatives adopt a critical by default position?
      The fact that I think Nolan Crouse is a fine mayor and I voted for Cathy Heron (as well as our host) doesn’t change my opinion. I’m reconciled to disagreeing with even my most beloved and respected friends, let alone politicians or brave citizens who offer themselves for that kind of public service.
      BTW in my opinion, Cathy Heron has been a decent councilor, but as a mayor she would be disastrous. We need someone who can take the chair of the Capital region in partnership with Iveson and get us LRT, integrated transit while we wait, and possibly integrated library services. Crouse gets little credit for the work he did to keep us from being overwhelmed by dubious regional interests. No one is perfect but Nolan Crouse has done a great job in the big picture. So have his opponents by keeping him on his toes at the granular level. St Albert has a long way to go and hopefully there will always be room for back seat drivers.

  3. K. Larsen

    June 13th, 2017

    Libraries were among the first things the settlers built and the Wheat Pools had an extensive library service as well. A public library builds literacy and gives children and other people more equal access to books and the culture of life-long learning.

    As we know from the limited e-book sales, the internet is no substitute for a public library and the cultural and social services it provides.

    Compared to the money spend on hockey and other contact sports, a public library is money better spent.

  4. Ivan

    June 13th, 2017

    Libraries are an unalloyed public good that save the public money, provide a refuge for youth, offer an access point for government services, increase the availability of knowledge.

    Why is it always senescent misers with no foresight like Bob Russel who oppose reasonable public investment like the building of a new library? Is it because he has no personal stake in the future of the community? Is it because he knows he’ll never benefit from the existence of the library personally? Or does he just not read books?

    St. Albert is too large an area with too many people to expect one library to serve the public. When you compare the libraries per capita, or the libraries per square kilometre, of other municipalities, St. Albert is slightly behind Dakar, Senegal, but slightly ahead of Bogotá, Columbia. St. Albert has better resources than either of these municipalities, and should be able to do better in terms of library access.

    • Sam Gunsch

      June 13th, 2017

      My guess, don’t know the man… but odds are, he’s probably always been wealthy enough and was raised in a sufficiently well-off home such that he’s never been denied access to any books he’s wanted.

      and then… I suppose I’m just revealing my stereotype of people who are the most keen to criticize any funding public goods, based on my life experience, i.e. small sample size.

  5. St Albertan

    June 13th, 2017

    I am against the new branch but not the library. To me it always seemed more sensible to concentrate high priority public facilities in the heart of downtown. Bring people in, encourage local transit use and offer as many reasons to be there as possible over a span of as many hours per day as possible. Enhance programming and small business owners will thank you. Oh and for the love of learning, get rid of the parking lot that a past council thought would be a great idea as a central feature! What were they thinking! That’s where the new library should go and they should collaborate with local schools, social services, Edmonton, and Sturgeon County before even thinking of building another branch.
    Being perceived as a car oriented highway strip mall with a privileged bedroom suburb, will be hard to overcome, but if major spending like this goes to our own bed-room communities it will be impossible.

    • Ivan

      June 13th, 2017

      There should be two new branches, and they shouldn’t be large. Make walkable access more likely from a greater portion of the city.

      As a youth, the local library was always a refuge for me when things weren’t good elsewhere. But getting to the library wasn’t easy. The easier it is for young people to access a space like a decent local library branch, the better for St. Albert in the long run.

      • St Albertan

        June 14th, 2017

        “But getting to the library wasn’t easy.” That’s why I advocate for better and more fair public transit. If I were mayor there would free transit vouchers at the food bank. What I want is a vibrant and welcoming city centre. Balkanizing services like the library or public pools and fitness is a mistake. Concentrate resources don’t dilute them.

  6. June 15th, 2017

    I think there is a miss conception that the people who signed the petition are against the library. Most support a better space, but dont agree with the stick it to the tax payer approach. When the rec center was built it was a tax increase that was not supposed to be an long term one . We have perfect places like the old london drugs which is basically down town and has good parking. St albert has a bad record as of late for projects gettingout of hand and or just not working ( the sewer line crossing beside city hall, painting the sidewalks around downtown, the fake brick on the pedestrian overpass that you can only see during the day when it has just been raining, and so forth) the administration and managers of some departments clearly are out of their depth, until proven otherwise how can we agree to give that amount of cash.


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