PHOTOS: Councillor Bob Russell, at a recent picnic held to support the candidacy of Councillor Cam MacKay, who is running for mayor of St. Albert. Below: Councillor MacKay and Councillor Sheena Hughes, at the same event, and George Cuff, author of the “inspection report” on the work of St. Albert’s city government that was released Tuesday.
ST. ALBERT, Alberta
Yesterday, I ended my post about Tuesday’s St. Albert municipal inspection report with the prediction the unnamed councillors responsible for actions deemed inappropriate by consultant George Cuff would be revealed in time for the Oct. 18 election.
“These examples, drawn from amongst others, point to council members who are not restrained by public accountability but have allowed their personal animosity to trump caution and expected governance behaviour,” Mr. Cuff wrote.
“The issues noted … are examples of the type of behaviours exhibited by some members of council which are, in our opinion, quite improper and irregular and thus not in keeping with the roles of Mayor and Councillor,” said Mr. Cuff, who did not name names in his report.
However, a story from one year ago in the files of the St. Albert Gazette, the community’s twice-weekly newspaper, has already answered four of the six questions on my signoff list:
- Who was the council member who complained in an email on Sept. 30, 2015, that council’s priority-setting session was a waste of time and only about “public relations”?
- Who was the councillor who on Aug. 23, 2016, emailed a management employee “and threatened him with physical discomfort”?
- Who was the council member who wrote a blog post on Sept. 23, 2015, that described members of the administration in “a very demeaning manner”?
- Who was the councillor who on Nov. 19, 2015, sent the mayor “a very aggressive and threatening email … using demeaning language unsuited to a member of council”?
According to the comprehensive Aug. 27, 2016, report by journalist Doug Neuman, who has since moved to a different employer, the councillor who wrote the first email listed above was Cam MacKay and the councillor involved in the other three situations was Bob Russell.
Mr. Cuff’s report made reference to the email sent by Mr. MacKay on Sept. 30, 2015, but did not identify the author. Mr. Cuff quoted the email as saying council’s priority-setting session was “a waste of time and only about ‘public relations’?” A sentence from the actual email sent by Mr. MacKay reads: “Asking council there (sic) priorities on paper will always result in a feel good message in which the only purpose is public relations.”
Mr. MacKay’s email also dealt with of the role in the council priorities meeting of Gilles Prefontaine, the former city councillor who controversially left his elected position for a senior management job with the city. “I can barely stand to look at Prefontaine,” Mr. MacKay wrote in the email. “… If he is present I may not attend.”
Mr. MacKay told the Gazette reporter he believed he was not breaking city council’s code of conduct when he made the critical comment about a city employee because he thought he was providing confidential feedback on the priority-setting meeting.
Mr. MacKay is now a candidate for the job of Mayor Nolan Crouse, who is not seeking re-election.
As for the comments made by Mr. Russell, the Gazette report says the city management employee who was the subject and recipient of the Aug. 23, 2016, email was again Mr. Prefontaine, whose elected position Mr. Russell had filled in the by-election of June 2015.
Mr. Russell sent the email the morning after a city council meeting at which Mr. Prefontaine, who in my personal experience is unfailingly polite, had given an answer with which the councillor took issue. “This is not the first time you have made such a comment,” Mr. Russell said. “Better not happen again or you will lend (sic) up wearing one of my crutches in a very uncomfortable position.”
According to the Gazette report, Mr. Russell later described his metaphorical words as “out of character” but did not apologize.
Whether or not Mr. Russell’s comment was out of character is subject to interpretation. Mr. Neuman’s report mentioned other emails in a similar vein from Mr. Russell.
In a Sept. 3, 2015, email reported by the Gazette but not noted in Mr. Cuff’s report, Mr. Russell took issue with a comment by the then city manager, Patrick Draper, telling Mayor Crouse, “I did not appreciate Draper insinuating that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Next time he gets both barrels … in public.”
In the Sept. 23, 2015, commentary noted in both the Cuff investigation report and the Gazette story, which the newspaper says was published as a blog post on mybirdie.ca, Mr. Russell refers to Prefontaine’s hiring as a “joke,” saying the former councillor lacked credentials and experience. Mybirdie.ca is a local website run by former newspaper publisher Don Sinclair, which includes a discussion forum popular with many of Mayor Crouse’s critics. The comment by Mr. Russell referenced in the Cuff report as a blog can be found on the mybirdie.ca page for Sept. 23, 2015, in the blog site’s archives.
The Cuff report and the Gazette story both also reference a Nov. 19, 2015, email the newspaper said was from Mr. Russell to Mr. Crouse. In it, the councillor dismissed a citizen who wrote a letter to the editor of the Gazette critical of him as “that bimbo” and suggested she must be a relative of Mr. Crouse.
Mr. Russell then told the mayor, in a passage quoted by the Gazette, “I’ve tried to work with you since being elected but this sleezy (sic) act by you just ended any cooperation. Keep you (sic) head up from now on.”
Mr. Russell and Mr. MacKay, along with Councillor Sheena Hughes, have consistently opposed Mr. Crouse, which Mr. Cuff described as a “notion of official opposition” without naming the three. Councillors Wes Brodhead, Cathy Heron and Tim Osborne have often, but not always, sided with Mayor Crouse on issues. Ms. Heron is now also running for mayor. Mr. Brodhead is seeking re-election to council. Mr. Osborne is not.
The identities of the authors of two more examples of inappropriate comments by councillors mentioned in Mr. Cuff’s report remain to be confirmed:
- The council member who on Oct. 29, 2015, accused the city administration and other councillors of supporting a “culture of dishonesty.”
- The council member who “referred in very disparaging language to colleagues on council in front of a local school audience of Grade 6 children and staff” in January 2014.
NOTE: This story has been updated to provide links to a comment by Councillor Bob Russell referenced in the Cuff report.