The ongoing saga of Northern Arm’s council quarrels appears to have reached a tipping point.
According to the Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment, the regional manager of municipal support in the central regional office has been appointed to conduct a thorough inspection of the operations of the Town of Northern Arm.
The inspection process includes a review of town records and meeting minutes, as well as interviews with council members and staff.
If the inspection finds fault with operations, the department, through section 6 (1) of the Municipalities Act, has the ability to dissolve a council or dismiss a council member.
“The use of this section first requires an inspection to be performed… in order to determine whether the affairs have been managed in an irregular, improper, or improvident manner,” a statement from the department reads.
The ongoing issues date back to 2018, with conflict of interest allegations being lobbed at then-mayor Lloyd Hunter. It was followed by Hunter and five councillors resigning, citing an inability to work with Deputy Mayor Michael Tremblett.
A byelection was called late last year to allow operations to resume. Tremblett became mayor.
Since then, claims of a dysfunctional council have surfaced and a petition has been in circulation to dissolve the municipal government. RCMP has been called to two separate council meetings and two councillors elected through byelections are no longer serving.
The decision to carry out the inspection was based on the petition and a March 8 meeting between Northern Arm councillors and Municipal Affairs and Environment Minister Graham Letto, at which time some councillors expressed concerns related to the actions of other councillors.
Tremblett is pleased the inspection is going forward.
“It should bring an end to the goings-on,” he said.
Concerns expressed in the petition aren’t known by the current council, he added.
“We don’t know what is going to be investigated. We hope this goes back to the first session of council, when council came in September 2017, because that’s where the mismanagement of the office and council started and just came forward,” Tremblett said.
“I think it would be unfair if they took from November (2018) to now; that would be unfair.”
Regardless of the outcome, Tremblett said he hopes it will get council back on track to continue moving the town forward.
Fred Butler, one of the five councillors to resign in 2018, was among those involved with circulating the petition.
He said 92 per cent of 202 people surveyed signed the petition.
“We had been calling on the department to step in and take action since last November,” he said. “We were told (issues) need to be forwarded in documented form, and we’ve done that.”
Along with the petition, Butler said, emailed concerns have also been sent.
Neither Tremblett or Butler could say whether the outcome of the inspection would bring closure to the matter. Regardless, Butler said, something has to be done.
“We’re extremely pleased with the decision made … to try and expose the issues we are experiencing here at the town and community level,” he said.
Butler hopes the inspection will go forward sooner rather than later, as it’s been a disheartening experience that has divided the town and painted Northern Arm in a negative light.
“It’s caused such turmoil in the town,” he said. “And no matter where you go … and you tell them you’re from Northern Arm, it’s, ‘What the heck is going on down there?’”
The Department of Municipal Affairs and Environment stated there is no timeline in place for completion of the inspection process.