CAO says decision to wave fines based on legal recommendation

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.”

[SUBHEAD]Two-way communication

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.

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17 Comments

  1. Just a couple more questions because this is not passing the smell test (see what I did there?).

    Whose authority were the fines collected under? I would think the same authority would be required to rescind said fines… It clearly says above that Council did not make a decision on the matter.

    Why was legal advice required in the first place? How much did it cost the Town to waive a fine? If it’s truly about compliance and a feel good story, why was legal advice and an in camera meeting required?

    hmmmm… lets think…
    Were the fines illegal? Should we be expecting a new, enforceable Town Standards bylaw?
    Has anyone else paid any fine under this bylaw? I’d be looking for a refund.

    At the end of the day, the smell has improved where I live, I just don’t like how this is being conducted. And really, what’s $5,400 to Champion? Didn’t they donate a similar amount to a candidate in the last by-election? Maybe they should have paid their fine instead.

    Morinville Councillor reveals by-election campaign contributions”

  2. This stinks! The town should have spent their legal funds on “reviewing” this situation in a Court of law where Bylaw issues are supposed to be dealt with. If I ever get a Bylaw ticket I am going to request that my lawyer be given the chance to defend it “in camera” in Council Chambers rather than in Court in front of a Judge.

    I hope the minister carries through with his threat of amalgamation!

    I don’t read much negative about Sturgeon County Council on this blog, perhaps they would do a better job of taking care of the residents of Morinville as part of a combined region.

  3. As you can see this town is being run by nothing but corrupt people. Get out and “VOTE” at the next election and be done with those that are ruining our town!

  4. Maybe they can fine them again today for the odors. Coming home during my lunch hour and again now at 3:40p.m.

    I can just imagine how much we paid for legal counsel, and for what to forgive some fines. I think we lost twice.

  5. “Not a lot of people necessarily know the mechanics of Council and Administration and the authority under the various pieces of legislation,” -Debbie Oyarzun

    How are we supposed to understand the “mechanics of Council” if conversations such as this one are held IN CAMERA? Please enlighten us second tier citizens. My poor brain can’t quite wrap it’s self around the concept of council not being “open and transparent” to the people who pay their bills.

  6. To those who are commenting, I appreciate that you’ve taken the time to share your opinions as many don’t even do that. That said, I think that many of you are missing the mark of the intent of this action. In fact, to those that have the guts to call the Council and Administration corrupt, you are downright rude and ignorant of the truth.

    Unlike the vast majority of Morinville residents, I attend Council meetings. Granted, I have only started doing so since the beginning of February, but save for meetings when there is funding to be debated, it is the same familiar and usual 3-5 faces present, aside from Administration.

    I don’t work for Champion. I certainly, however, know people who do and also know some of the management team at Champion. Since Frank B. came in (Along with some others in the management of the company) Champion has made big progress on odor mitigation, on safety and working conditions for the employees, and most importantly to me, on community involvement.

    Yes, there is still odor coming from Champion. However, the odor complaints are far less and the odor itself isn’t as common and isn’t as bad. They have made an honest effort and spent a lot of money to work on the problem. They are continuing to work on the problem. For all of the crap that they take, Champion also deserves kudos when they do something right.

    Over the past year, Champion has donated tens of thousands of dollars to various groups within the town, planting solid corporate roots within the community because they want to stay here and they want people to understand they are working hard to get better. The town recognizes this and I think that is exactly what this was about. It’s not about the $5400, it’s about the fact that the town recognizes the effort and wants to encourage more of it.

    Frankly, I support and applaud the decision by the CAO. I think that Council was smart here, and further, I think that Debbie O. (CAO) has worked hard to show that she is professional, hardworking and understands what Morinville needs in the long term to continue making it the wonderful community to live in and be apart of.

    And Jeff, if you think that Sturgeon County Council does such a great job, I invite you to educate yourself before making such assumptions. Feel free to start by reviewing their Mill Rate Bylaw.

    Tim V, I suggest that you go to Morinville.ca and take a look at all of the posted bylaws so that you can understand the mechanics of council and the procedures that they have implemented and now follow.

    Finally, Donnie, I suggest strongly that you be careful about your comments. Calling people corrupt without proof is called slander and is illegal. While I encourage debate and the sharing of opinions, name calling and slander accomplishes little, and what is accomplished isn’t positive.

  7. Like Nadia, I could smell cooking dog food when I arrived home around 4 pm yesterday. Given that the Town just waived $5,400 of fines only a week ago, made it stink even more. Why don’t they do their cooking late at night?

    I’m not sure what the fine for each offence is, but obviously it is not enough to get full compliance which is the goal of any bylaw.

    I have asked the Town CAO some detailed questions on this subject and hope to write more next week.

  8. I would like to know if we still live in Canada and if we do what happened to freedom of speech, I know we can all get carried away with something’s that we say but dispite that we still have a right to say how we feel with something that is close to us. I’m willing to bet that Donnie is not the only one with a negative feeling towards our Town right now. Just saying.

    • The presence of your comment and the others is evidence of the existance of freedom of speech.

  9. RE: Rob Ladouceur

    Sorry is that the Mill Rate Bylaw that shows taxes on an average home worth $281,856 paying $994.47 a year in taxes in Sturgeon? Because when I compare that to Morinville rates I get an average of $1858.72 a year on a house in Morinville. That’s a difference of $864.25 a year between Sturgeon and Morinville.

    You’ll have to forgive my “lack of education” with respects to Municipal Government because I fail to see the argument you are trying to make about Sturgeon Mill rates being flawed. Bottom line is that if my house was located in Cardiff I would pay much less than I do now per year and the service levels would be comparable.

    Please also feel free to go ahead and start with the argument about cost sharing not being fair when it comes to Sturgeon residents not paying for services in Morinville. As soon as Morinville contributes to a new Arena in downtown Edmonton and that big fancy interchange on the South side of Edmonton (because of course Morinville residents will use both on occasion) there isn’t much of an argument for increased funding from other Municipalities in exchange for services provided.

  10. Freedom of speech does not equate to freedom from responsibility for your comments. We are free to voice our opinions, thoughts, concerns and so on; however we are also responsible to deal with the consequences of those expressions. Slander is not covered by freedom of speech.

  11. I would like to take this opportunity to apologize to anyone I offended in my previous comments. I am very passionate about what I believe in and I believe that the tax payers of this town are not getting a fair shake. Although I am glad my comments got some people fired up, that’s one thing that is good for this town. Get involved and you’ll be surprised what you will find out.

  12. Re: Jeff
    I’m not sure why you went on a cost analysis between the county and the town. The whole of what I said, summed up, is that this wasn’t about money at all. I’d like to stick to what this article was about and not go on to a tangent about the ups and downs of Morinville and the County.

    Donnie:
    I like that you posted, and I appreciate that you apologized. I love to see people being passionate about things that are important to them, so I applaud you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Morinville isn’t perfect, I think most of us will agree on that, but as a person who is born and raised in Fort McMurray and lived there through the 80’s, 90’s and 2000’s, I really think we are doing a ton right here in Morinville!

    I hope everybody enjoys the spring trade show this weekend!

  13. I am not friends with anyone on council or with management at Champion Pet Foods. Nor have I been present at a council meeting for a few years. I cannot profess to knowing the “mechanics” of town council. When I see my taxes rise every year, I accept council’s reasoning, for the most part. What I can’t accept is hogwash.
    The intent behind council’s decision to fine Champion Pet Foods was to force the business to change their emission levels to a level that was satisfactory to the laws that the municipality has set. Without that in place, there would be little reason for them to change the way they do business.
    What you are suggesting Rob, is that it is a good decision to wave fines associated by-law violations by Champion. Your reasoning is because Champion Pet Foods is a positive contributor to the town. (The odours are not). If I have been a volunteer for the last 20 years I am also contributing in a positive manner. Am I now also immune to by-law violations and paying the associated fines? I think not.
    It matters not that you know by first name basis the people who operate Champion. Comments regarding employee health and safety at Champion have nothing to do with the subject. They are regulated by provincial and federal standards, and they should be abiding by them.
    It is commendable of you to attend council meetings, yet council has declared that they had nothing to do with this decision, so it matters little that you are so familiar with the processes involved in being a councilor.
    Champion is in the business of making a profit. The positive contributions they make to our community are wonderful, but it doesn’t mean they should be exempt from obeying the law. They are expected to adhere to the laws that are in place, in part, to protect those in their vicinity. There are penalties that they are expected to pay when they are in violation, to prevent further violations. That is the intent of paying the fines. There has to be consequences.

  14. lol – oh come on Rob – you specifically suggested that Jeff go “educate” himself on the mill rates and when he does, you deflect and suggest people stay on topic! I agree it’s off topic, but you took it there. You’d make a good politician!
    I’m going to award that debate point to Jeff. Sorry no appeals.

    moving on…

    The article I read was about how the decision was made. We don’t know why because it was closed to the public. The purported reason of compliance and forgiveness, in my opinion, should not require legal advice or an in camera meeting. That leads me to three scenarios.
    1. Something else is up
    2. Council erred in process
    3. I’m just wrong

    I think mostly #2, maybe #1. #3 is certainly up for consideration.

    oh well, in any case, it’s unlikely anything will happen with anonymous posts on the internet (fun as it is). If I care tomorrow, I’ll email council for an answer.

  15. Rob – I respect your well-stated opinion. However, there is a huge difference between trying to stimulate business and enforcing bylaws. Had we learned that the Town had decided to give a tax break, well, I wouldn’t be writing this. But they decided to forgive $5,400 in bylaw fines. Two totally different issues.

    While the CAO has the authority, I think that it sends the wrong message. Why didn’t Council vote on it? One of the big reasons that lawyers recommend not going forward with something is that they think they can’t win. I’m not sure why, but I am certain that we will never hear the real answer due to the in-camera discussion. As much of law is built on precedence, I’m amazed that legal counsel would say that this incident won’t effect future ones of a similar nature. What this tells me is that either the bylaw or Town’s method of enforcement is not totally legal. The good intentions of the effort and money spent have no bearing on being compliant with bylaws.

    Finally, it would be instructive to learn if Councillor Fingler left the room for the in-camera discussion regarding Champion. As he promised in his interview regarding Champion’s donation to his campaign, he said he would “do the right thing for Morinville.” The right thing to do was leave the room. If he didn’t, conflict of interest comes to mind.

    I’m still waiting for the CAO’s answers to my detailed questions, so more to follow at a later date.

    As said above, this whole issue and the way it occurred stinks more than the air in Morinville on a Champion dog food cooking day in August.

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