County councillors divided on Rimoka board representation

Ponoka County Coun. George Verheire has been kicked off the Rimoka Housing Foundation Board.

Ponoka County Coun. George Verheire has been kicked off the Rimoka Housing Foundation Board.

On Oct. 9, during council’s organizational meeting, Verheire was nominated for the position by Reeve Gordon Svenningsen.

A special meeting was held Oct. 18 and Coun. Paul McLauchlin, chairman of the Rimoka board, advised council a vote of non-confidence had been lodged by that board against Verheire.

Coun. Gawney Hinkley made a motion to rescind Verheire’s appointment and a recorded vote was held: Councillors Keith Beebe, Gawney Hinkley and McLauchlin supported Verheire’s removal, while Verheire and Svenningsen opposed it.

This vote of non-confidence, the fact that Verheire was nominated and elected in the first place, and the move to rescind his appointment caused an argument at the Oct. 18 meeting; strong debate continued to the Nov. 6 meeting.

“It would have saved a lot of problems if he’d just said no, I don’t accept that nomination,” said Coun. Hinkley.

Not only does Hinkley wish Verheire hadn’t accepted the nomination, he believes Verheire didn’t have the right to accept it. However, he wouldn’t expand on this comment. “(It) created a lot of mass confusion.”

Two years ago Verheire was chosen to be a representative on the Rimoka board. He was removed from the board then too.

“No facts have ever been proven or put forward as to why I had a vote of non-confidence. I asked for conformation as to what it was I did wrong. All they kept saying is you know what you did, you know what you did. I don’t know what I did,” said Verheire, referring to his removal from the board two years ago.

Verheire doesn’t feel Hinkley’s remark that he should have turned down the nomination is viable because it was the councillors who voted him to the Rimoka board.

At the Oct. 9 organizational meeting an election between councillors Beebe, Verheire and McLauchlin was held for the two Rimoka positions. There was a tie between Beebe and Verheire and in another vote between just those two, Verheire came out on top.

However, after he was elected, Verheire feels the tables turned on him, that councillors who’d voted him onto the Rimoka board no longer wanted him there.

Verheire says the situation turned into a name-calling match between councillors. “It’s not right. I wish they could get along, but for now it just doesn’t seem like it’s going to work.”

McLauchlin realizes there is history regarding Verheire and the Rimoka board, but he isn’t aware of the details. The details of the recent non-confidence vote also weren’t fully disclosed to him, he said.

“Basically it’s saying the actions of a member wouldn’t be in adherence with the governance of the board. It would cause the board to not function for whatever capacity,” McLauchlin explained.

“At the end of the day I think everybody is doing this for the right reasons. I think people are passionate about it and I think that passion is making things a little bit more emotional than it should be,” added McLauchlin. “I’ve yet to see anybody that has malicious intent on any side. At the end of the day I hope that’s where people are going. But it’s too bad it’s being the way it is right now.”

At the same time McLauchlin believes county council had to support and respect Rimoka’s non-confidence vote, and respond to it. That response came in the form of voting to rescind Verheire’s appointment.

However, if the council had decided to stand by their Oct. 9 decision, McLauchlin says Rimoka would have to live with that decision. “As you can see it’s a complex issue. The answers aren’t all that apparent.”

“At the end of the day my opinion of the whole thing was that I think Mr. Verheire would act in good faith of the board and we would have been able to function properly. But, at the same time I’m just one person and the confidence of the board voted against that,” he added.

McLauchlin isn’t the only councillor who’s voiced support for Verheire.

“Well, I nominated him for that position and I had confidence that George could be one of our reps on the board,” said Svenningsen.

Svenningsen is aware of the last time Verheire was elected for the board but didn’t let the history affect his vote this year. “I felt George had moved on from that and felt he would be able to handle the job. Our other representative on the board was confident that him and George could work together. I didn’t have an issue with it at all. We can’t let a person’s past always be …. we can’t punish them forever,” Svenningsen added.

His continued support for Verheire on those feelings. “I still feel it could work if people let it.”

After Verheire’s appointment to the Rimoka board was rescinded, a new election was held within the council. McLauchlin nominated Svenningsen.

Svenningsen says he didn’t foresee his own nomination and election. He wasn’t sure what council was going to do, but believes if the position had to go to someone with a Ponoka address then it would have had to have been Hinckley or him.

McLauchlin believes any council member would have participated with the Rimoka board in good standing, including Svenningsen.

He also doesn’t believe nominating Svenningsen was a bad move. “Not in the least. And at the end of the day I have to support the decision of my board, I have to support the decisions of my council and honour both those inside and outside of council.”

Beebe however believes McLauchlin nominating Svenningsen was a bad idea. At the Nov. 6 council meeting he gave a short speech regarding the whole situation during his individual councillor report.

“I have been approached too many times about the decisions county council has recently been making. So I am going back and bringing up some decisions from the organizational meeting and the special council meeting which I feel concerns the ratepayers’ interests, and therefore could be directly related to the county’s future,” he read.

Beebe felt, based on the last time Verheire was placed then removed from the Rimoka board, the recent nomination should not have been considered for the best interests and benefit of the Rimoka board and the county.

Svenningsen’s continued support was an action Beebe called into question. “Why would Coun. Svenningsen oppose the motion while knowing the circumstances and damaging effects this could cause?”

Beebe then moved on to his opinion of McLauchlin’s nomination of Svenningsen.

He felt it was irresponsible for McLauchlin, a member of the Rimoka board, to nominate another councillor who’d voted to keep Verheire as a representative; a vote that, in Beebe’s opinion, could have jeopardized the Rimoka board and county council.

“In my opinion, these were bad decisions made by two councillors, Coun. Svenningsen and Coun. McLauchlin, that could still damage the respect of council in the public eye. My concern is for the county council’s reputation. Therefore, I feel if these to councillors have any respect for the County they should resign from county council,” said Beebe.

However, when asked, neither McLauchlin nor Svenningsen would entertain the idea of resigning.

“I work hard and people know I do, so it’s not a big deal,” McLauchlin said.

“I wouldn’t even comment on it. I mean, we’re not five-year-olds,” Svenningsen added. “It’s something that we’ll work through. We’ve always been team players at Ponoka County and we’ll get there again.”