INNISFAIL – Mayor Jim Romane said the results of the scathing investigative external report against former town councillor Glen Carritt were necessary for public release because Innisfailians have a right to full transparency from their elected town officials.
“Council just felt we owed it to the public to tell what happened, and it was only because council wanted to be transparent, so people would understand what happened and how it happened, how it was investigated by an independent source who does this all the time,” said Romane last week.
However, Carritt, who is still steaming full ahead to seek the mayor’s chair in this year’s upcoming municipal election, said the investigation has no legal merit and was nothing more than a ‘witch hunt.”
The report, released by the Town of Innisfail on Feb. 24, was based on an investigation by Edmonton-based SAGE Analytics Inc. into public complaints the first-term councillor, who resigned from council on Jan. 11, violated several sections under the town’s Council Code of Conduct Bylaw.
SAGE’s exhaustive probe concluded 29 of the 36 allegations made against Carritt “had merit”, and that evidence showed the former town councillor breached the bylaw.
“It is almost overwhelming, the amount of investigation and the extent they went to, and to come back with a 100-page plus document and the results of the interviews they did, council members and citizens at large,” said Romane. “Wow. It was quite shocking… to the extent of all of what they came up with.”
According to SAGE’s executive summary report, Carritt’s bylaw breaches included:
• Causing reputational damage to council and the community through his private affairs and protest involvement.
• Supporting a local business to open while defying health restrictions.
• Communicating council decisions inaccurately or in a manner that did not foster respect for the council decision-making process.
• Not upholding council decisions to work together for the common good.
• Not maintaining confidentiality during closed council meetings.
• Having a conflict of interest involving a land purchase.
• Using a town email address in personal election campaign advertising.
• Lacking attentiveness during council meetings, due to cellphone use.
• Attempting to interfere with staff duties.
• Treating others with disrespect.
• Not upholding the spirit and intent of the council code of conduct.
Although the Council Code of Conduct Bylaw has provisions for sanctions against a council member that has committed bylaw breaches, the report noted Carritt is no longer serving on council and that no sanctions were recommended. However, the report added SAGE would have recommended council impose strong sanctions on Carritt “as a result of the number and serious nature of the code of conduct violations” if he was still serving on council.
Since the release of the report there has been significant public divide over its findings, from those in support of the findings and others continuing to back the embattled ex-councillor. However, Romane is adamant the town can not be held responsible for the findings from the independent consultant.
“One person decided to go against the grain of council’s wishes that council tries to emit a proper image of their doings and respect for constituents,” said Romane. “I can’t see why people would hold the town responsible for it. He did it to himself. Nobody else did it to him.”
The former councillor, who retained the legal services of former provincial cabinet minister Jonathan Denis to defend him during the probe, was contacted by The Albertan last week for comment. He did not respond to a verbal interview but did send text comments defending his recent high-profile defence of free speech and small businesses.
“I will not be bullied to stand behind or kneel to the Marxist organization like BLM (Black Lives Matter) and I do not bully others if they wish to do so,” said Carritt, who apologized last week to the town for "inadvertently" using a town email address on one of his campaign posters. “I believe in freedom of choice and all have that right to do so and the judge and jury are the voters.
“I find it appalling that council considers my stance to be detrimental to their reputation versus someone who is charged with sexual assault,” added Carritt, seemingly in reference to Coun. Donnie Hill who was also the subject of a concurrent but separate code of conduct review. “When I am mayor, council will entertain and encourage a variety of open dialogue.”
In the meantime, Carritt told The Albertan he was not concerned with the findings of the external report.
“The report has zero merit and there was not a formal complaint. The investigation has no legal merit as my lawyer stated they seem to be on a witch hunt,” said Carritt, noting Denis had firsthand knowledge of the SAGE probe. “He was present during the interview and is appalled by the outcome.”
Big public cost
The two code of conduct probes into the controversial affairs of Carritt and Hill will cost local taxpayers about $25,000. According to SAGE, the Carritt investigation was much more complex than the Hill probe. The Edmonton consultant estimated 85 per cent of the time and expense was for the Carritt investigation.
Despite the high cost, Romane said the town had to hire an independent investigator when it became known that the number of public complaints against Carritt had become “too numerous.” The mayor said it was ultimately the right and fair decision to make.
“Do we just ignore these things? We have a code of conduct. If someone chooses not to respect it why shouldn’t they have to answer to that?" said Romane, adding the Hill probe was “straightforward”, with his Criminal Code issues scheduled for resolution by trial in early 2022.
“We have been as fair as we could, yes,” added Romane. “The reason being is that we had to take the personal aspect out of our feelings for Glen, individually…and say, ‘look, we are too personally involved to make an investigation of our own. There are people that do that. That is what we decided to do.”
Mayor Romane will be retiring from almost 23 years in public office this October when the municipal election is in the books.
The past year has seen the devastating COVID-19 pandemic and local controversies, including the anti-racism rally and rebel barbershop issues, and for the past two months at least, the ongoing turmoil involving Glen Carritt.
The mayor is well aware of the political polarization in the community, and the prolonged anger driving it.
Carritt’s pursuit for the mayor’s chair continues, largely on a platform for the easing of provincial COVID-19 restrictions, most notably on small businesses. However, he will be facing off against the popular and far less outspoken Coun. Jean Barclay. But Carritt also has many supporters, but some citizens have noted the size of his local support is difficult to measure as he has a large contingent of out-of-town followers.
Romane is uncertain how and when the community at large will recover from one of the darkest and challenging times in its 118-year history.
“It is not a pretty situation. I am not proud of it but I am just disappointed by the actual fact it had happened,” said Romane of the Carritt controversy. “Once the investigation started, they (SAGE) pursued it right to the end. It was pretty overwhelming the response and the results of it, but every bit of it (report) was true, and the arguments they had for each item.
“I am just sorry for the community that we had to put them through this,” he added. “We are still moving ahead. I guess time will tell.”