By Stephen Dafoe
Morinville – In a joint press release issued Apr. 10, Champion Petfoods and the Town of Morinville announced they had found some common ground on odour mitigation. In consideration for Champion staying the course on their odour mitigation efforts, the Town would wave $5,400 in tickets Champion had been issued prior to making progress on reducing odour from the local plant.
Over the past week there have been questions raised by residents wanting to know just who on Council made the decision to wave the fines.
Morinville’s Chief Administrative Officer Debbie Oyarzun told Morinville News the decision to wave the previous fines was not made lightly. “The decision was made with legal consultation, taking a look at the various types of enforcement that we have in front of us and the overall purpose or intent of enforcement, which really is for compliance,” she said. “As we have indicated in the past, we have things like the Community Standards Bylaw and other things like development permits. We were focusing on the outcome we were looking for – and that is compliance.”
Oyarzun said legal counsel felt the best approach to take was waving the past tickets and looking to the road ahead. “Being that they were older tickets and Champion has made significant improvements since the time that the tickets were issued, and the tickets were issued in order to ensure we get compliance and get to the point where there isn’t that odour on a daily basis, then we are looking at what’s the validity of the tickets still.”
[SUBHEAD]An administrative decision based on recommendation
Oyarzun said the legal nature of the matter necessitated the in camera [non public meeting] discussions by Council and that Council made no formal decision during those discussions. She understands why that may be troubling to residents who may not be familiar with the process.
“Not a lot of people necessarily know the mechanics of Council and Administration and the authority under the various pieces of legislation,” Oyarzun said. “This would be one that is clearly considered legal. It was clearly necessary and appropriate for this to be discussed [through] in camera sessions. Decisions of Council were not made in camera. General comments were had and Council accepted the legal recommendations that I had presented to them. But no decisions were made by Council in camera. They accepted the legal information and recommendations as I would bring any other issue forward to Council in camera if it had any legalities associated with it.”
Oyarzun said under the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act conversations can be had with Council in camera when they pertain to legal matters. “It’s usually land, labour and legal that are things that can be discussed in camera with Council,” she said. “Council cannot make decisions in camera. If they want to make a decision they have to make a decision in public, but I can receive general direction from them. This is definitely under that legal envelope and I did bring legal advice and recommendations from our legal counsel to Council just to keep them informed.”
Oyarzun said the Municipal Government Act provides powers for the CAO and the Development Authority to make various decisions on behalf of the municipality, but that she has always taken the approach to be as transparent as possible with as open a communication as possible. “Council has been briefed on this,” she said. “Council has been made aware of the legal advice that we were given. It’s not like Administration went off and made a decision that deviates from Council’s direction. That is definitely not the case because I do take my marching orders from Council.”
Ultimately, it came down to the municipality accepting the advice of the lawyers they hired to advise them. “The legal counsel we have is very experienced in municipal matters, in development matters, and in community standards matters, and we spent significant amount of time going through all of the documentation and such and looking at a road forward,” Oyarzun said. “That was the main thing for us, and that’s really what I heard from Council. Let’s pave that road forward for us. That is what was really important, and recognizing that Champion has made fairly substantial gains.”
Oyarzun said the purpose of the joint press release was to get the information and decision into the public realm.
[SUBHEAD]Town’s hands not tied for future
However, those gains and the waving of the fines does not prohibit the Town from issuing future fines or prevent Champion from defending itself on them. “This does not by any means bind the Town,” Oyarzun said. “If we want to pursue enforcement – if all of a sudden it goes off the rails again and we’ve got odour on a regular basis and the intensity increases, it does not bind us. We still have means by which we can enforce.”
The CAO said though there is the odd day where odour is present, it is reported and recorded immediately. “Part of the agreement that we have is any time we get odours – whether [reported by] staff, Council or anybody – I send an email directly to Champion right now,” Oyarzun said, noting it allows the company to look at what was happening at that time from an operational perspective, allowing them to see if it is something they need to adjust or tweak. “We’ve got a very open, two-way communication.”
The CAO said that information allows Champion to determine what might have occurred and allows them to tell the Town what was down in relation to it.