Original Published 05:00 May 04, 2022

By Lacie Nairn, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

A Wheatland County councillor was sanctioned and censured following a Code of Conduct investigation at the regular Tuesday, April 5 council meeting, and ratepayers from multiple divisions attended the April 19 council meeting in support of a motion to make the allegations and investigation public.

 Division 6 Councillor Glenn Koester was first accused of a Code of Conduct violation at the March 1 council meeting, however, as the allegations and discussions were held in a private, in-camera meeting it is unknown what the complaint was in regards to; as Councillor Koester was named in the motion arising from the closed session, he has requested at both the March 22 an April 19 council meetings to have the allegations named public.

 “My name is publicly being defamed and slandered,” Councillor Koester said during the April 19 meeting. “I have no way to tell the ratepayers what the investigation accuses me of; I have no way to tell the world what the investigation determined to be an appropriate resolution to the investigation.”

 Findings of the independent investigation were delivered to council during a closed session at the April 5 meeting and council upheld the complaint against Councillor Koester. He was sanctioned in a four to three vote to provide a written and public apology to Wheatland County council for the Code of Conduct breach. 

 He was also removed from all previously appointed boards and committees until the next organizational meeting in October 2022.

 Councillor Koester requested the allegations be made public once again at the April 19 meeting, providing several letters of support from area ratepayers; Wheatland County Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Brian Henderson also read into record six additional letters of support from ratepayers, the Wheatland Housing Management Board (WHMB), and a letter addressed to Minister of Municipal Affairs Ric McIver from the mayors of Rockyford and Standard.

 Several ratepayers also attended the meeting in-person to show their support for Councillor Koester and, after a motion from council, one ratepayer from Division 7 took to the podium to speak on the matter.

“What if it was your name that was raised to the public?” Sharon Skibstead directed council members. She added she felt council was “acting like entitled teenagers” and was embarrassed by their actions.

 Wheatland County Reeve Amber Link shared examples from 2015 when a previous council member had been censured and sanctioned by that council, noting the councillor was also unable to comment on the matter to local media due to the in-camera nature of the allegations and discussions.

 “While the details of the complaint under the Code of Conduct bylaw are to be dealt with in a closed session, the decisions arising from that do have to be handled in a public session, and that’s what council has done,” Reeve Link said. “None of us can speak freely at all times, we have some matters we have to hold in confidence.”

 She added, if council made the allegations and discussions clear, she was concerned it could set a precedence and create hesitation for future complaints to be brought forward and could “open a whole can of worms” for the county as it would allow the complainant to also publicly discuss the allegations, which could create further challenges.

 Councillor Koester’s motions to make the allegations and discussions public information were defeated in a vote of four to three. Although these motions were defeated, council unanimously agreed to direct administration to look at options to bring in a facilitator to help improve council relationships and work together as a unified council.

This item is reprinted with permission from The Drumheller Mail, Drumheller, Alberta