Investigator says allegations unsubstantiated; council decides otherwise

Mayor Jeff Genung wants to put the matter of placing sanctions on Councillor Marni Fedeyko in the past so council can focus on the town business.

But that may not be the case. For Councillor Fedeyko, it’s not quite over.

Fedeyko says she will consult legal counsel on yesterday’s decision before following any of the three sanctions placed on her after town council concluded she breached a confidentiality subsection of Cochrane town council’s Code of Conduct.

At a May 31 special meeting attended by four town councillors, the sanctions were imposed, despite a report from an investigator that indicates the allegations were unsubstantiated.

Following a 2 1/2-hour in-camera session that included representation from town legal counsel, town council voted 3 to 1 to require Fedeyko to attend a four-hour councillor responsibilities and code of conduct training session within 60 days. She has been removed from all committee appointments until Dec. 31, 2024, and her next three-month term as deputy mayor has been struck.

Council concurred with investigator Kingsgate Legal that one of the allegations from a June 2023 complaint was unsubstantiated but disagreed with the findings of a second one.

“The investigator’s conclusion is based on a narrow interpretation of section 9.4a of the Code of Conduct with respect to who constitutes a member of the public,” stated Councillor Susan Flowers in presenting the resolution. “Council’s conclusion that members of the public include staff members or any other individual who is not the intended recipient of the confidential information, and therefore council finds there has been a breach of section 9.4a.”

Further information on the complaint has not been made public. It has been discussed multiple times in-camera by council.

Section 9 of town council’s code of conduct addresses confidential information. Section 9.4a reads:

“In the course of their duties, members may also become privy to confidential information received outside of an “in-camera” meeting. Members must not: (a) disclose or release by any means to any member of the public, including the media, any confidential information acquired by virtue of their office, unless the disclosure is required by law or authorized by council to do so.”

Only Councillor Tara McFadden opposed the resolution, saying there couldn’t have been a breach because the allegations were found to be unsubstantiated. Secondly, she believed the meeting should have been held when all members of council were able to attend.

Councillor Reed supported the resolution, simply stating the definition of unsubstantiated is there was insufficient evidence to make the finding as defined in the investors report.

Mayor Genung, who also voted in favour of the move, admits it has been a stressful year. 

“We’ve had multiple discussions about this over the last year and I think what I heard yesterday is the majority of council felt it was important to put this behind us and move on,” says Mayor Genung. “It’s been a distraction. It’s been something we’ve had nagging us for a year, and it’s not the work that we were elected to do. I’m just excited to get back to that work and carry on.”

He says more details may be released, but he is currently restricted from providing any further information.

The Municipal Government Act does not allow a municipality to impede any elected councillor from performing the majority of their duties, including attending council meetings and voting.

“Nothing changes except for the three sanctions that were imposed,” says Genung. “Technically, nothing should change because she’s removed herself from most of the committees and she’s already postponed serving as deputy mayor. So, really just the training that that needs to take place in the next 60 days.”

At council’s last organizational meeting, Fedeyko only accepted the role of representing the town on the Rocky View Regional Handibus Society. Previously, she had been carrying a heavier committee workload but between her job, raising three children and the uncomfortable atmosphere in council chambers over the allegations, she decided it was best to step back.   

“I was really surprised council had hired an independent, non-biased investigator who very clearly came back to say that the allegations that council had come forward with in a form of complaint were absolutely unsubstantiated on every single level. So, I am surprised that council still chose to find a way to sanction me.”

She is equally alarmed that the decision was made on something as serious as sanctioning a fellow councillor without having the full council present.

“As of right now, I will not be following any sanctions until I have some advice from my lawyer and what that looks like, which could actually be a whole review of this entire investigation, obviously through the provincial courts. I’m not about to be sanctioned for something that has been very clearly documented as unsubstantiated. I don’t think that’s fair.”

Councillors Morgan Nagel and Patrick Wilson were absent. Mayor Genung says they struggled to find room on the calendar for the meeting and at the time it was scheduled, only Wilson indicated he would be out-of-town. He says he only learned yesterday morning that Nagel was ill and could not attend.

Nagel says he advised the town of his illness on May 30 and reconfirmed yesterday morning. Surprised a decision was made, he calls it a blow to the Canadian justice system.

“If council is going to conduct independent investigations, then the findings of the independent investigator should be respected,” he says in a written statement to Cochrane Now. “Since this investigation did not find that there were any substantiated claims against Councillor Fedeyko, then no punitive actions should have been taken.

“We believe people are innocent until proven guilty in this country and independent investigations should be fact-finding missions, not witch-hunts.” 

Wilson said he advised the town in advance he was scheduled to be out of town and could not attend.

“They proceeded because it was convenient for the majority,” Wilson told Cochrane Now when contacted last night. 

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