INNISFAIL – A wind of change is blowing through town hall.
And it’s being aggressively propelled by the newly named Citizens For Innisfail (CFI) delegation that is promising to keep turning up the heat on elected officials, even if group members did not get all the answers they wanted at town council on Jan. 9, to a list of 14 questions stemming from the abrupt and controversial firing last September of popular fire chief Dean Clark.
“We want to engage the town more to let them know, especially coming into an election, what they want to see in the next council as well. They can make changes now for the good,” said Jim Carroll, one of the spokespersons for CFI who attended the Jan. 9 council meeting. “I am not sure who is going to run for re-election. That is up to them. They should know we have concerns. They just can’t rubber-stamp things anymore.”
Before an overflowing public crowd, Mayor Brian Spiller read answers to a majority of the 14 questions put forward by the delegation at council’s regular meeting on Nov. 28.
Spiller answered nine of them, but five were passed over on the advice of lawyers as they were deemed to deal with confidential personnel files between employees and immediate supervisors. One of the questions council refused to answer was on the “different direction” the town plans on taking with the fire department, which disappointed CFI members, but one Spiller adamantly refused to budge on.
“We are not going to tell you today. We are not going to tell you 10 years from now. That is a personnel issue and that stays in their files,” said Spiller. “(I) don’t care how much you want it you are still not going to get it.
“Our CAO kept us apprised what was going on in that situation,” added Spiller, who also told the audience council would not ask the provincial government to conduct a delegation-requested review into the conduct of CAO Helen Dietz, who announced last month she’s retiring as of July 1. “She had the full support of council. She had the support of council for the reasonings that she gave us.”
However, he did concede in two other answers the town would now look into adopting staff policies for progressive discipline and exit interviews. Spiller added the town is also hiring an executive search company to find a replacement for Dietz, who Spiller said may offer “guidance” during the process but won’t be involved in the hiring.
“I feel our group can make a difference. Look at what’s happened already,” said CFI member Christa Lamboo after last week’s council meeting. “We have raised community awareness to some of the problems in management. We have followers that want us to continue, and we do have the attention of council.”
Lamboo noted the group’s future work is especially important with the municipal election only 10 months way.
“There is so much more we can do, including informing new and returning candidates for council and mayor, our community’s expectations of each position and the overall transparency of town office,” she said. “This year could be a milestone election year. With the help of our group we can ensure the citizens of Innisfail are well informed and well represented.”
In the meantime, CFI members are now planning to become fully organized, create a mission statement, and hold a future public meeting.
“Because it all began with firings, the thing we are focusing on is good governance with regards to staff and how they are treated as employees of the town,” said Flemming of the group’s shift in strategy – away from targeting the outgoing CAO to ensuring fair treatment of town hall staff. “People were let go against their will and had five days to see a lawyer and had to sign a confidential termination paper. People felt helpless.”
Carroll said although the town will look into developing staff policies for progressive discipline and staff exit interviews, the town should also address other areas as well, including conflict resolution, whistle-blowing, bullying, harassment and sexual harassment.
“We want to see better policies for the town’s employees so they can be treated with respect and dignity and be free from bullying and harassment, and where they can stay because they want to stay and not because they have to and need a job,” said Carroll, who told council the challenges of finding any policies on the town’s website was problematic. “The Town of Innisfail should be a go-to place for a job. It is a beautiful town and I love it, but it should be reflected at the town office too. From what we have heard from the past, it isn’t.”
Christa Lamboo, Citizens For Innisfail member
“I feel our group can make a difference. Look at what’s happened already. We have raised community awareness to some of the problems in management. We have followers that want us to continue, and we do have the attention of council.”