As the 2018 municipal election nears, the GNWT department of Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) is set to return local power to the Town of Norman Wells.
The Sahtu community of nearly 800 is one of the few municipalities in recent memory that have had its mayor and council dissolved by MACA. Since last November, the community has been under the direction of Allan Stanzell, a municipal administrator.
The only other community that has faced a similar move in recent history was the hamlet of Fort McPherson in 2014.
Candidates for the new mayor and council began lining up to run for council for the Oct. 17 election after nominations opened last Tuesday. There was no municipal election in 2015, because Mayor Nathan Watson and town councillors Heidi Deschene, Lise Dolen, Pamela J. Gray, Sherry Hodgson, Gregor H. McGregor, and Tim Melnyk were all acclaimed. Most of those candidates, with the exception of Melnyk, said they were undecided or would not run again.
Melnyk says it is critical that experienced politicians are in the mayor and council chairs as he became frustrated with dysfunctional and divisive council meetings.
“I have been on every council in Norman Wells since 1993, whether it was through election or byelection,” he said. “I served under every mayor since then. This last council was the worst council I have ever served under.”
Margrit Minder, returning officer for the town, said Friday that she would not disclose to the public who filed nomination papers until after the nomination period was closed on Sept. 17.
After about a year of being elected, complaints about council from residents, other councillors and staff reached MACA indicating there were problems with council procedure and moving issues forward. The GNWT responded by having a municipal inspector examine council operations. It was found that some bylaws weren’t being followed and that a number of governance-related documents needed to be updated. Some involved procurement and human resources policies.
Eleanor Young, deputy minister for the department of Municipal and Community Affairs said last week that mayor and council were dissolved in October and that the GNWT hired Stanzell to update the documents and prepare the municipality for a new elected body.
“Obviously no one likes to be in a position where we are taking the ability of local residents to run their community, so it was in our interest to return (governance) as quickly as reasonable,” Young said. “We also wanted to support mayor and council with regards to some of the problems they had prior to us stepping in last year. This included cleaning up some procedures and bylaws and making sure we can train a new council with new procedures and bylaws.”
Stanzell’s tenure began Nov. 1 and he will step down once the new council takes the oath of office, within 45 days of being elected.
“I fulfill the role of mayor and council, which is more of a political role,” he said. “There were certain procedures, policies, bylaws, council procedures, HR policies and procedures, associated bylaws with those, finance policies, procedures and bylaws, procurement, administrative ones and governance ones.”
He couldn’t identify the number of documents he had to update, but said there were specific ones he focused on ahead of time and ones identified later that had to be fixed.
Stanzell has also been working on an updated training module and orientation package for new councillors after they are sworn in. This will include details from the town that explain the updated procedures and bylaws and documents from the past year as well as the status of town’s finances and the town’s capital projects. MACA will also provide general community government orientation material, he said.
With no council, there were no council meetings, but Stanzell said he did his best to hold regular public meetings to offer continued communication with residents.
“Usually it was a month to six months and some were attended better than others,” he said. “We also posted public information on the town website and Facebook page regarding important issues for the public, like the status of capital projects or the opening of the swimming pool.”
His role was also overseeing the municipality’s only employee – the senior administrative officer, who is responsible for municipal staff. He said he felt a number of developments were made including the completion of large capital projects – some of which were over 20 years old – such as a new lift station. The fire department was also updated and there was an application made for a 10-year water license.
Stanzell, on behalf of the Town, released a public notice on the municipality’s website on Sept. 6 stating that Catherine Mallon, Senior Administrative Officer, will be stepping down from her position when her contract ends in November. Darren Flynn will be filling the role of interim SAO starting Sept. 20.
“Darren brings extensive Northern community and territorial level experience to the position, and will be responsible for guiding Town affairs through the remaining election period and into the term of the next Council,” according to the notice.