At the urging of Fort Simpson village council, Mayor Sean Whelly has sent Coun. Kirby Groat a letter of reprimand due to Groat’s line of questioning to the village’s senior administrative officer during the April 6 regular meeting.
During the meeting, Groat asked SAO Darrell White about the functionality of the village’s only bylaw enforcement truck, as it was out of service due to faulty brakes.
White informed Groat the bylaw truck had been initially been sent to PR Contracting Ltd in Fort Simpson, but that the village made the decision to make further repairs elsewhere.
He declined to say why that decision was made.
“I expect we will get another contractor to put brake lines on, we bought the brake lines,” White told Groat, a veteran member of council.
When Groat asked if the repairs would be done by a certified mechanic, White replied, “I would say, yes.”
To which Groat snapped: “You would say yes? Or yes?”
White, visibly exasperated, said he was not going to have a debate with Groat during the meeting and would talk to the councillor about the issue one on one.
“This is council we are talking about,” Groat responded. “We are the ones running this town. Why would you want to talk to me personally and not the other seven councillors?”
White said he has confidence in village staff to make competent decisions on assigning contracts and that Groat’s criticism was not warranted.
“Where they get their trucks serviced is their operational decision and I support that,” White added.
Whelly then attempted to interject, stating that Groat’s point was made, but the interchange between the councillor and the administrator didn’t end there.
“Is this truck going to be certified as road worthy after the brakes are changed?” Groat pressed.
White responded that he has “every expectation that it will be.”
Groat asked if that meant ‘Yes,’ but White replied that is not what he said.
“So ‘No’ is the answer?” Groat asked.
“You’re putting words in my mouth again and I never said that,” White replied.
“So ‘Maybe’ is the answer,” Groat concluded, ending the exchange abruptly.
Village council voted for Whelly to send Groat a letter of reprimand as the exchange was deemed “in contravention of the council procedures bylaw” and against council’s code of conduct.
‘Not in compliance’
At the April 20 regular meeting, Groat read the letter of reprimand that he received from Whelly into the record (can be viewed at 1:44:45 of the meeting’s video. )
Whelly declined to provide a copy of the letter to News/North, but Groat read it into the record:
“It is important that the tone of the questions to the administration be kept professional as we are all working as a team,” the letter apparently read, going on to point out the importance of maintaining a good working environment for the SAO and that Groat should “take note of the concerns that council expressed regarding your behaviour.”
Whelly said this week that when Groat was asking his questions, he was “outside the bounds of the two village bylaws” and should have been addressing his questions through the chair.
Groat said in an interview on April 22 that he felt he was doing his job as a councillor by holding the village’s administration to account. He said he was concerned about the village’s only bylaw enforcement truck having faulty brakes and being put into service earlier this year.
“The truck had been in the maintenance shop and the village came along and took it away,” he said. “I had heard it was being driven around and that is where the debate came. I guess they (administration and council) thought I was getting a little bit too loud.
“For some reason I was seen as not respecting the senior administrative officer, who I was pointedly asking questions whether our truck was running around in unsafe conditions.”
The village’s bylaw truck was still not back on the road as of press deadline.